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Old Europe vs New
Last uploaded : Wednesday 2nd Apr 2003 at 19:05
Contributed by : Michael Radu


It has been said that during the 1930s, the London Times proclaimed 'Dense fog over English Channel. Continent isolated.' A similar and equally amusing claim is now being made with a strong French accent in Paris, Berlin, and Luxembourg.

Indeed, in January eight countries, including five EU members (the UK, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Denmark) and three new NATO members (Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic) signed a statement in Madrid supporting the United States' position on Iraq, and on February 5, in Vilnius, 10 East European would-be NATO and EU members (Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Albania, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Macedonia) did the same.

'Parade of vassals,' fumed a German member of the European Parliament, clearly convinced that the fog over the German-French axis had isolated Europe.

Worse still, coming from a country whose language used to be synonymous with diplomacy, French President Chirac recently asked the Central Europeans to 'shut up' and cease being 'infantile,' at the same time threatening their accession to EU membership.

Such petulant outbursts only prove France's isolation. In fact it takes a huge amount of Gallic sophistication and arrogance to obscure the simple fact that those isolated are the 'old Europe' minority, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld. The reasons for this are not difficult to understand.

For the East European former Soviet satellites (or provinces), there are two existential needs: security and economic development. Security for them means protection against the traditional aggressors in the region: Germany and, most of all, Russia. The recent joint position of Russia, France and Germany against the US policy on Iraq cannot but strengthen Central European suspicions about what a France-dominated EU may mean for their future security.

Luxembourg, Brussels or, for that matter, Paris, simply cannot provide that security: Only Washington can. When it comes to economic development the EU is the most natural source of support, but the relationship between East and West Europe is different. Whereas the military contribution of both East and West European nations (with the possible exceptions of the UK and Turkey) is marginal at best compared to whatever actions Washington may take, the economic equation is more complex.

The East Europeans need EU investment and aid, but the EU needs (albeit to a lesser extent) East European markets and labor. Hence the security relationship is far more asymmetrical than the economic relationship, a fact that is well understood in Riga, Warsaw, and Bucharest, but apparently beyond the comprehension of the sophisticates in Paris and Berlin.

And then there is the unquantifiable sentiment, so prevalent in Eastern Europe, that during the dark decades of communist oppression it was Washington who, at least rhetorically, was on the side of anti-communism.

It was certainly not France, which still had communist ministers as late as last year, or Germany, which made concession after concession to Moscow and, even more so, to the late and unlamented regime in East Berlin.

SEEN FROM Paris (and Berlin), the future does not seem bright. With the addition of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to NATO and the forthcoming admission next year of seven new East European members, old Europe's isolation is bound to increase. And with Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic plus Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovenia and Slovakia entering the EU soon, the fog over Europe will increasingly isolate France, and, unless it changes course and government, Germany as well.

Germany is a special case, since until recently it has been a steadfast US ally in every matter that counted. It was largely the absorption of the former East Germany and its resentful and indoctrinated citizens that has influenced Berlin's attitude regarding Iraq. (Of course, there was, too, Gerhard Schroeder's desperation during the electoral campaign of last year and his need to retain the support of the Greens, many of whom remain 'like melons, green on the outside, red on the inside.')

Add to this the economic stagnation of the past decade, the burden imposed by Berlin's huge contributions to the EU (mostly the price of French amour, given the enormous cost to the EU, especially to Germany, of subsidizing a non-competitive Gallic agriculture), and the catastrophic loss of credibility of Schroeder's administration with German voters since its narrow reelection this past November, and the German crisis is structural. Berlin's growing international isolation only makes matters worse.

As to France, its attitudes toward the US are so regularly peculiar as to be predictable. But this is a power in such a state of decay that it is incapable at this point even of controlling events in its former showcase ex- colony, Ivory Coast. Even its language is losing so much international prestige that the Francophonie - the loose association of countries where French is supposedly spoken - has felt the need to include Bulgaria and Vietnam and held its last summit in Lebanon - a country whose French- speaking nationals are far more likely to live in Paris or Detroit than in Beirut.

All in all, while only the dreamers of a French-German alliance in control of the EU could still take seriously the notion of a mythical 'Europe' as a counterpart to America's 'hyper-puissance,' the reality checks of Madrid and Vilnius suggest that the political and indeed ideological map of Europe is indeed changing for the best: away from isolationist games with an anti-American subtext and toward geopolitical realism.

This article originally appeared in 'The Jerusalem Post' 16 March 2003; reprint permission was granted.

Michael Radu is a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and co-chairman of its Center on Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism, and Homeland Security.

FPRI website:


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