Tension in the EU

The notorious dichotomy between «old» and «new» Europe drawn by US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the eve of the Iraq war may have been a schematic representation of reality, but was not without political content. Squabbling in the EU over the selection of a new president for the European Commission has once again shown that the tension is real and, in cases, decisive. Rumsfeld’s mistake was not in what he said but in the terms he used. In truth, the bickering is between those who are eying political emancipation for Europe and those who, in the name of Atlanticism, want to see the continuation of US hegemony, a state of affairs that began in 1945 and was consolidated during the Cold War. No doubt the Franco-German axis has in the previous years functioned as an informal directorate. Its paternalistic demeanor has often irked other member countries. Nevertheless, even those who have in the past expressed discontent acknowledge that a Franco-German partnership is the only way to thwart Washington’s unadmitted but obvious attempt to undermine Europe’s integration – especially as London flies kites for American policy. The US has never been too keen on European unification, viewing it as a potential challenge to its global hegemony. Washington wants Europe to stay stuck at the level of intergovernmental cooperation or, if possible, slide back to the level of a single market zone. This tension is rarely made public but it still has a significant effect on policies on both sides of the Atlantic. Occasionally, it surfaces strongly, as in the case of Iraq. Yesterday in Brussels, the leaders of the 25 EU member states were looking for a new head for the Commission, with one eye fixed on America. Jacques Chirac, France’s center-right president, and Gerhard Schroeder, Germany’s social-democratic chancellor, are backing Guy Verhofstadt of Belgium – not because he is a liberal, but because he is a confessed Europeanist who did not hesitate to oppose America’s Iraq campaign. The British, Silvio Berlusconi of Italy and certain eastern members do not want him – interestingly, for the same reasons. The outcome of this tug of war is unpredictable. Prospects over the EU’s first Constitution are more upbeat. It should be remembered that an agreement on the Constitution had failed after a battle on voting rights. Spain and Poland had sought to protect the privileged status granted to them by the Nice Treaty – but they would have never insisted were it not for America’s encouragement. It has become clear that the balance of power within the EU has shifted. The pro-American bloc has grown bigger. Britain is expected to find more than provisional support from some conservative governments, and even form some structural alliances.

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