OPINION

A defense plan for Europe

After the meeting of the leaders of France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder tried in vain to water down their ambitions. They even said that the creation of an independent European defense body aims at reinforcing NATO’s European pillar. But it is clear that the Franco-German axis aspires to no less than the military and political emancipation of the continent. This raises eyebrows not only across the Atlantic, but also among those who have opted to remain under the American security umbrella. Britain’s fierce reaction reflects its justified fear that should these defense plans materialize, it will no longer be able to oscillate between the US and the EU. London will either have to remain on the European fringe or upset its special relationship with Washington. Tony Blair is in favor of continued US hegemony, with Europe in its traditional adjutant status. The British premier also rejected the Franco-German vision of a multipolar world as unstable. What is really at stake here is not whether Chirac wants to turn the EU against the US but whether Europe will grow from a minor obedient ally into an equal US partner. The new American strategy is incompatible with the European world view, and hence stresses the underlying tension and Europe’s tendency for closer political integration. The gathering marked the beginning of a process which has many obstacles ahead. The architects say that the formation of a common foreign policy and defense will go ahead without those who wish to stay out. But much will depend on the number of those willing to join. Should a considerable number of states take part, the rest will be tempted to re-examine their stance. A failure to woo a considerable number of participants will automatically undermine the role of the Franco-German axis inside the Union.