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Last Updated: Monday, 15 March, 2004, 17:15 GMT
Spain to re-join 'Old Europe'
By William Horsley
BBC European Affairs correspondent

The winner of the Spanish general election, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has promised to end Spain's close alliance with the US over Iraq and to revive its traditional ties with France and Germany.

French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
The Franco-German alliance has reason to celebrate
The political landscape of Europe may again be split in two.

Within hours of the election result, Mr Zapatero condemned the Iraq war and its US-led occupation as "disasters".

He said President George Bush and Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair should engage in "self-criticism" for their mistakes.

He promised to bring home Spain's 1300-strong contingent of peacekeeping troops in Iraq.

He is to announce the date after his inauguration, in a few weeks.

Valuable ally

These outbursts may reflect Mr Zapatero's political inexperience, or his strong convictions.

Either way, they point to a re-heating of a cauldron of old arguments within Europe and across the Atlantic.

Under Jose Maria Aznar, Spain became - along with Britain - a pillar of the pro-American group of nations in western Europe.

Its main contributions were:

  • internationally, giving diplomatic support to the US and UK over the use of military force in Iraq

  • in Iraq, deploying highly-skilled peacekeepers to help with the physical and political re-building of the country

  • in the European Union, standing up for Nato and the vital importance of Europe's relations with America.

Along with Spain, the closest European allies of the US over Iraq and its strategy against terrorism are Britain, Denmark, Italy, Poland and most of the other eastern European countries which will join the European Union in May.

Socialist candidate Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero
Zapatero: Speaking out of inexperience or conviction?
On the other side, France leads another group of European states which opposed the US-led war in Iraq and which still refuse to contribute directly to the coalition's work in Iraq.

Germany and Belgium are in this group. Spain may now join them.

For 18 months, from August 2002 up to last month, efforts to forge a credible common foreign policy for the EU were stymied as these two rival camps clashed in a series of public wrangles.

The divide helped to poison the atmosphere as leaders from 25 governments in Western and Eastern Europe struggled last year to agree on the text of a new EU constitution, which was meant to demonstrate the unity and common purpose of Europe as a whole.

'Appeasement of terror'

Instead, the talks on a constitution collapsed at an EU summit meeting in Brussels last December.

Mr Zapatero has promised to revive Spain's traditional "pro-European" foreign policy.

Its main points are:

  • to compromise over Spain's defence of its national interests - especially over its relative voting strength - for the sake of early agreement on the EU constitution

  • to bring back Spanish troops from Iraq to show the new government's disapproval of an "unjustified" war

  • to call for a new "international alliance" against terrorism, based on the authority of the United Nations, not "unilateral actions" by the US and UK.

This set of proposals has been welcomed by France, but brought a cool response from the British government.

The European Commission President Romano Prodi, a champion of a stronger Europe, told the Italian newspaper La Stampa that the US strategy had failed, as it had led to international terrorism growing "infinitely more powerful".

But a long-standing friend of the US, the German Christian Democrat Friedbert Pflueger, told BBC Radio that the new Spanish government was engaged in "appeasement" of terrorism.

Al-Qaeda appeared to have succeeded in changing the government of one European country through terror.

"That must never happen again," he said.

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