To Be Absolutely Frank

Declaration of a New Europe

Discord over Iraq signals the end of Franco-German hegemony.

By 1.30.03

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Correction: The article below mistakenly repeats initial reports crediting Spanish Prime Minister Aznar with the idea for the declaration. In fact, the statement grew out of an op-ed which Michael Gonzalez of the Wall Street Journal Europe solicited from Italy's Berlusconi, who contacted his Spanish counterpart, who in turn rallied the other leaders.

There's nothing new at first glance in the joint declaration on Iraq released yesterday by eight European leaders. The Europeans don't call for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, just the elimination of his weapons of mass destruction; and they scrupulously make their argument in terms of the U.N. Security Council resolutions which Hussein has flouted.

But in reaffirming the "common values" of Europe and the United States, and the Old World's debt to the New for the defeat of 20th-century totalitarianism, the statement clashes with the anti-Americanism that's been spreading lately through Europe's politics and press.

What's even more significant, in repeatedly calling for "unity" and "cohesion" in facing Iraq, the statement absolves the U.S. of ignoring the will of the international community, and effectively lays that charge on those who oppose the use of force.

Spain's Prime Minister José María Aznar reportedly initiated the declaration, which was also signed by Britain's Tony Blair, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, and the heads of state or government of Portugal, Hungary, Poland, Denmark and the Czech Republic.

The most conspicuous absences are of course France's Jacques Chirac and Germany's Gerhard Schroeder, and it is to these most prominent opponents of war that the message is clearly addressed.

"They are the ones that are anti-European because they assumed their position would be shared by the others," said Berlusconi's defense minister Antonio Martino, making the same point less diplomatically the night before the declaration was published.

After months of hearing about "cowboy" Bush's "unilateralism" on Iraq, such talk is refreshing. In part it bespeaks the influence of Rumsfeld's so-called "new" Europe: three of the declaration's signers are from Eastern countries who recently joined NATO and are slated to join the E.U. next year, and whose decades under Soviet rule left them with a benign attitude toward American power. The cheers that greeted Ronald Reagan on his Eastern victory tour a dozen years ago have yet to die out.

The prospect of E.U. expansion is also emboldening older members to buck the Franco-German axis. That's refreshing too. Aznar and Berlusconi are economic liberals whose policies exemplify the reforms that Europe needs in order to thrive. In this respect, as in their support for U.S. foreign policy, Aznar and Berlusconi's biggest ally is Tony Blair, leader of a nation whose ties to Europe are rivaled by those to America.

In economic, political and cultural terms, Germany and France defined post-war Europe. In this century, they will have to share that power with nations to the east, west and south. Hopefully that will mean a more dynamic continent and warmer transatlantic relations. In any case, it will make Europe a far more interesting place to watch.

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About the Author

Francis X. Rocca ia an American writer in Rome, Italy.