OPINION

The Week In Review

Here we are suddenly, three days before Christmas and 10 days before the new year. It is a time to sum up the changes that the old year brought and to consider what the new one might bring. Seldom has this crossroad in time held two such strong symbols for a year passed and one dawning. The year 2001 will be remembered for the terrorist attacks in the United States and the massive, measured response that showed that the war on terrorism will be serious and merciless. The effects of the terrorists’ breathtaking provocation and the response have already marked the new year as the first in an era of heightened fear and awareness. The world did not change, but there is a heavy new wisdom in our hearts. Our generation has awakened to the fact that war, including hand-to-hand combat with an implacable enemy, is not merely the stuff of myth and history, or the movies. There has been a loss of innocence, but also an awareness of what mankind’s state has been throughout history and over most of our planet today. Yet in 10 days we will be also be handling the concrete evidence that the European states are moving ahead inexorably with becoming a closer union. Who would have thought that Greece, which a decade ago looked hopelessly mired in its economic woes, would be one of the 12 countries forming the European Union’s core, or that our drachma, which was once buffeted like a leaf on the wind, would give its place in our pockets to the common European currency? How appropriate that the 1-drachma coin depicts a little sailing ship, the one that brought us so far through many a storm. We will miss it – but life being what it is, we might even see it back again in our lifetime. This is not to question the euro’s viability, but rather to express reservations over how committed Europe’s leaders will be in pursuing their political and social union. The last week has shown numerous examples of the feuding and fuming that goes on when 15 egos representing the swelling political pressures of their constituencies clash over vital issues. At the Laeken summit in Belgium a week ago, the more memorable moments brought squabbling over siting various new EU agencies. Self-interest and a shortage of rationality was behind the differences of opinion. This is understandable. The European family of nations is still unsure whether all the members should live in the same neighborhood or the same room. The siblings squabble instead of waging war with each other, and postpone decisions for some nondescript committee or a future summit. And Greece suddenly found itself at the heart of a vital EU issue. In its efforts to create its own defense force, the EU has to reach an arrangement with NATO to use the alliance’s resources. This means that Turkey, a NATO but not EU member, can have a say in what the EU force does. A compromise proposed by Britain and accepted by the other 14 members holds that Turkey can have a say where it feels that the force might be deployed in its sphere of interest. This translates automatically into Cyprus and the Aegean Sea, the two areas where Greece and Turkey are at odds. The argument is academic, of course, because Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and its continuing occupation of the island’s northern third showed in practice that NATO too would not intervene where Turkey feels that its interests are threatened. Crucially, the problem of how the EU force would use NATO’s resources was formerly a problem between the EU and Turkey; now the rest of the EU feels it has solved it by making it a problem between them and Greece. This shows a profound lack of unity and solidarity. If you, as a body, have a problem with someone else, you do not stick a fork into yourself so that your neighbor will be satisfied. Unless, of course, you are not a body but the occasional and partial sum of separate parts – in which case you don’t mind bartering the strength and influence of some peripheral limb. Then there is the bickering over how much influence the US has over European states, as witnessed by Germany’s objections to Britain being in America’s shadow in (Britain’s) leading the multinational peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, in which Greece will be sending about 150 medics, engineers and commandos. Furthermore, the European Commission said this week that the US Defense Department objected to the EU’s efforts to create a satellite navigation system to rival America’s own GPS because it could be used by an enemy of America in time of war. French President Jacques Chirac responded that unless Europe went ahead it would remain a vassal of the US. Heady stuff. It likens America to a huge magnet which threatens to throw the electrons out of alignment as they hurtle around the nucleus of our ostensible EU atom. Thus the EU worries about the powerful pull of America but cares relatively little when one of its own is left alone to struggle against the rest. Yet the euro’s debut shows that most Europeans are still prepared to put their money where their mouth is. Despite their squabbles and self-interests, perhaps they will move forward inexorably. And it is this unruly present combined with glacial progress that describes Greece in the EU as well. With our arguments, our self-interest and our problems with each other and the rest of the world we sail ahead, while still ready to freeze everything to protect our interests. In this, we are truly in the heart of the new, united Europe. Any closer union might stifle its members.