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Wednesday, 17 October, 2001, 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK
Analysis: Europe's fragmented voice
EU flags outside Parliament
The EU has expressed as many views as it has flags
By European affairs correspondent William Horsley

As EU leaders gather in the Belgian city of Ghent for a one-day meeting on Friday, they are asking themselves why Europe's voice has mostly been drowned out since the start of the US-led strikes on targets in Afghanistan.

The informal summit was originally called to show off the sense of purpose of the European Union.

It was to focus on the introduction of the euro at the end of this year and lay further plans for the EU's enlargement and political union.

But instead some EU leaders fear that the union has now been reduced to playing a minor role in the US-led coalition against global terrorism.

Feeble ties

The Belgian Government, as the host, wants to stick to the planned schedule.

Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt
Belgium is keen to press on with the original agenda
European Union leaders will publicise the coming operation to launch the euro notes and coins, confirm plans for the next round of enlargement and try to narrow differences among member states over the political future of the union.

But many leading EU figures feel the painstaking attempts to weld the union together as a single political entity have proved feeble in a real crisis.

Key decisions are being made by national governments instead of collectively by the EU or its representatives.

The attempts to safeguard EU states from the threat of terrorist attack, by strengthening police powers across the whole union, are opposed by civil rights groups and are proving hard to implement quickly.

Varied voices

Britain's Prime Minister, Tony Blair, as leader of the only European state so far playing a significant part in military action, has acted alone in striding the world stage, winning the ear of the US president and seeking to revive the Middle East peace process.

Tony Blair
The UK's Tony Blair has been criticised as "aggressive"
Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, by contrast, has complained that Mr Blair's speeches sound "too aggressive".

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has set back attempts to win the hearts and minds of Muslims in Europe by suggesting that western civilisation is superior to that of the Islamic world.

French leaders have appeared unsure how closely to be involved in a US-led project and have settled for a small role.

Germany's Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, wants his country to end the caution of the past 50 years and contribute directly to the US-led military action in Afghanistan. But opposition from his partners in government, the Greens, makes that a risky course for him.

And political leaders in Poland and the Czech Republic - which expect to be treated with respect now that their membership of the EU is in sight - have been dismayed to see the EU rushing into a closer security relationship with Russia.

The launch of the euro was supposed to be a sign of EU strength
No wonder that Helmut Kohl, Jacques Delors and other European elder statesmen say they worry about the loss of a sense of direction at this stage in the process of European unification.

In Ghent, France and Germany will seek to lead a European initiative to help secure long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan.

But EU leaders have so far failed to achieve their ambition to speak with a single clear voice at a time of crisis.

See also:

10 Oct 01 | Europe
Viewpoint: EU finds its role
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