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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 March, 2003, 10:21 GMT
Europe's blueprint hit by Iraq row
By Angus Roxburgh
BBC News Online, Brussels

It may not be uppermost in many people's minds as the world faces war, but one of the casualties of Europe's deep divisions over Iraq could be the work in progress on a new constitution for the European Union.

A Convention on the Future of Europe has been meeting in Brussels for just over a year, and was due to present its draft Constitution to the EU's leaders at their summit in Thessaloniki next June.

Valery Giscard D'Estaing opens convention session
Giscard says Iraq row will put back agreement
But on Monday the Convention's president, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, said that because of the disarray over Iraq, the work may not be completed until September.

"We cannot have the debate on foreign policy until things have been clarified a little," he said, with considerable understatement.

Giscard's planned meeting with EU leaders at the start of their summit in Brussels this week has been cancelled.

Briefing them on "progress" towards a common future was deemed inappropriate at a time of unprecedented squabbling.

A senior EU diplomat confirmed that the Brussels summit "will certainly not be business as usual", and that the profound differences between France and Britain demonstrated how hard it would be to put together the joint foreign policy foreseen in Giscard's draft constitution.

Europe's chaotic response to the Iraq crisis has caused consternation among integrationists and given succour to the euro-sceptics
According to that draft, the EU "shall have competence to define and implement a common foreign and security policy".

Furthermore, "member states shall actively and unreservedly support the Union's common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity. They shall refrain from action contrary to the Union's interests or likely to undermine its effectiveness."

The search for consensus on what kind of face the EU should present to the outside world will be further complicated by the fact that the 10 countries due to join the union in May 2004 have been invited to participate in the final stages of the debate, before a new treaty is signed.

Different conclusions

All 10 have their own ideas about Europe's future - not least its foreign policy and relations with the USA. Their support for President Bush's stance over Iraq drew scorn from French President Jacques Chirac.

Iraq demonstrates the futility of the EU's pretensions. We have precious little time left in the Convention to fix this
Jens-Peter Bonde
Democracy Forum
Europe's chaotic response to the Iraq crisis has caused consternation among integrationists and given succour to the euro-sceptics.

For the latter, such as the Democracy Forum group in the European Parliament, the chaos has demonstrated that "Europe is made up of different peoples, with different feelings, histories, perspectives and global concerns."

One of their spokesmen, Danish MEP Jens-Peter Bonde, said: "Iraq demonstrates the futility of the EU's pretensions. We have precious little time left in the Convention to fix this."

The disunity has fuelled the euro-sceptics' opposition to other areas of integration, too, such as justice and home affairs, which the Convention has been discussing this week.

British Conservative MEP David Heathcote-Amory, one of the Convention's 105 members, said democracies should not be "corralled into actions against their gut instincts".

"We must allow governments and parliaments the freedom to decide for themselves how to act," he said.

Others have drawn the opposite conclusion.

If the EU had one vote Germany, France, Britain and Spain would have to agree and speak with one voice. Europe's world view would prevail
Graham Watson
Liberal Democrat
Graham Watson, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament, said the disarray showed that Europe needed a single seat at the United Nations, and that this would help it to "constrain the unfettered exercise of American power."

"If the EU had one vote Germany, France, Britain and Spain would have to agree and speak with one voice. Europe's world view would prevail."

Michel Barnier, the European Commission's man in charge of constitutional reform, said the Iraq crisis had to be seized upon as a chance to create the "common diplomatic culture" the EU had so far lacked.

It is unclear to what extent the divisions will affect other issues, beyond foreign policy.

'Poisoned' atmosphere

On the one hand, the self-appointed French-German "motor" of EU integration - formally relaunched at a lavish celebration in Versailles last month - has been firing on all cylinders during the Iraq crisis. Mr Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder may feel stronger in pursuing other joint initiatives.

But on the other hand, the atmosphere is now so poisoned that Britain (with Spain and Italy) is likely to be much less willing to make deals with them.

So at the very least, progress towards a new European treaty could be delayed.

And whether that treaty will contain anything at all about a common foreign policy must now be highly doubtful.


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