‘New Europe’ prepares for four more years of Bush

VIENNA (AFP) – Balkan and former Eastern European communist states were yesterday weighing what the re-election of George W. Bush as US president means to the «New Europe,» with some countries wearying of being allies on the ground in Iraq. In Bulgaria – which joined NATO earlier this year, hopes to join the EU in 2007 and has troops in Iraq – the press said Bush’s re-election would force countries in the region to choose between the United States and the European Union. «Bush’s election is likely to widen the gap between the United States and Europe that appeared as a result of the war in Iraq. This is not good news for the Central and Eastern European countries, Bulgaria included,» political analyst Ognian Minchev said in the Bulgarian newspaper Trud. Bulgaria «will have to seek a difficult balance between two priorities – the NATO and security-oriented one incarnated by Washington and the one concentrated on social and economic development which is stressed by the EU,» Minchev said. «Most of the US allies are sick at heart. Openly or secretly they kept their fingers crossed for Kerry to win, hoping for a person more open to the world to enter the White House,» the «24 Hours» newspaper said. But Romania, like Bulgaria a new member of NATO and hopeful of joining the EU in 2007, was more enthusiastic. President Ion Iliescu said his country, which wants to host new US bases on its territory, «will only profit» from the Bush victory. The newspaper Adevarul said in an editorial that while other Western allies may criticize Bush, Romanians «must express their gratitude to Bush since he was the one who decided that Romania could join NATO.» In Prague, Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda rejected anti-American sentiments across Europe. «For me, I see anti-Americanism as a great disappointment. It is Anglo-Saxon society that has never experienced totalitarianism. The United States greatly helped Europe and the Czech Republic in the previous century. The Euro-Atlantic link is key for the future of Europe,» Svoboda said. Hungary will withdraw its 300 troops from Iraq by March 31 next year, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said in Budapest on Wednesday, just one day after the United States re-elected the president who led the invasion of Iraq. «To stay there until the elections are held is our duty,» Gyurcsany said, referring to elections set for January in Iraq. «To stay there much longer is impossible. That is why by March 31, 2005, we are withdrawing our troops from Iraq.» The Iraqi mission has been an unpopular one in Hungary, where opinion polls have showed a majority of the population opposed to the deployment. Hungary is one of 30 countries that contributed troops to the US-led force in Iraq in March 2003. Several allies have since withdrawn. Poland is due to start progressively withdrawing its 2,500 troops in Iraq in January. It has been one of the staunchest US allies in Iraq, taking command of a multinational force south of Baghdad. But faced with strong domestic opposition to the deployment ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections expected next year, the leftist government said in October that it aimed to pull its forces out of Iraq by the end of 2005. This is a sharp change of attitude from Eastern and Central European states, many of which joined the EU and NATO this year, from their public endorsement of Bush’s policy ahead of the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. This was what US Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld called the «New Europe,» which in its pro-American stance stood apart from the «Old Europe» led by France and Germany which opposed the US-led invasion. Even papers in Poland wondered whether a second Bush mandate will manage to ease ties with the European Union. Rzeczpospolita daily said the transatlantic conflict «paralyzed institutions like NATO» and «can only mean a loss for Poland,» which joined the EU in May.