OPINION

Commentary

British Prime Minister Tony Blair may have come under fire from his European counterparts over the mini-summit at Downing Street, invitations to which had originally been sent only to a couple of political leaders for what was meant to be a private political discussion on the fringe of EU institutions. What is more important, however, is that French President Jacques Chirac and German Prime Minister Gerhard Schroeder thought it a very good idea and accepted the invitation. What is equally important is that the leaders of Spain, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands, who had been originally excluded from the talks, also rushed to obtain an invitation. Hence, none of these leaders saw the meeting as an insult, or as a threat to EU integration, to the strenuous efforts of the EU partners to forge a single European policy and, more recently, to a common strategy on the war in Afghanistan and to the world crisis in the wake of the September 11 disaster. The leaders of the eight countries excluded from the mini-summit were, naturally enough, annoyed. Athens is considering lodging a formal complaint and the whole issue will be raised at the next EU summit. But the damage has already been done. The leaders of the Big Three showed that they do not intend to share everything with all their partners in the EU, while four states showed that they are interested in being kept informed on crucial issues, regardless of whether the remaining eight do. All talk of the common European foreign and defense policy decided on at the Maastricht summit a decade ago has been shunned. Blair cannot, of course, be blamed for all this, as he represents a country which has anyway been lukewarm about EU integration. If the Germans, the French (in Ghent recently) and other EU partners (in London last Sunday) disapproved of the way Blair, the head of an EU member state, behaved, London would not be able to exercise its peculiar transatlantic policy within the EU, which undermines the EU’s status and openly insults other European states. Alone, Blair cannot impose a two-speed Europe. This is a crucial issue and it would be interesting to see the 15 member states splitting into two groups, especially given the great influence wielded by the USA over some European capitals.