PARIS — The most striking fact to emerge from the recent Germany elections is that for the first time a majority of voters in a EU member-state has been motivated by foreign-policy concerns. In the past, the country’s worsening economic situation and high unemployment rate would have cost Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder his job. But his refusal to allow Germany to participate in a war against Iraqi Saddam Hussein — even if approved by the U.N. — helped him win the support of millions of likeminded voters.
Schroeder’s campaign weakened the close links that have existed between the U.S. and Germany since the Cold War era. His justice minister went as so far as to compare U.S. President George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler. Forced first to apologize and later to resign, she won’t participate in the next Cabinet.
The United States felt insulted by these words from a country that it helped, in the wake of World War II, to restore its image, to join the community of the free nations, to resist the Soviet threat and, finally, to peacefully achieve reunification.
The Germans, who initiated so many wars over the centuries, and dreamed, under Hitler, of dominating the Continent, if not the whole world, are now frightened more than any other people by the mere idea of being involved in a new conflict. They appear to be so deeply converted to the ideal of permanent peace put forward by the great philosopher Immanuel Kant that for the first time they have distanced themselves from their American protector. Add to this a feeling of culpability for their parents’ or grandparents’ crimes and an extremely low birthrate and you have a situation that seldom fosters a great readiness to fight.
Losing 46 seats in Parliament, Schroeder’s Social Democratic Party beat Bavarian Gov. Edmund Stoiber’s Christian Democratic Union by a margin of less than 9,000 votes. That the SDP was able to stay in power is largely due to the growing popularity of its Green Party ally, whose leader, Foreign Minister Joshka Fischer, has become the most popular politician in the country.
What effect will the German election have on the rest of Europe vis-a-vis Iraq? Even with a growing number of Britons, including members of his own Labour Party, openly criticizing him, Prime Minister Tony Blair is not about to end his support of Bush’s Iraqi policy. This explains the unconvincing report he submitted Tuesday to the House of Commons on Hussein’s efforts to produce chemical, biological and atomic weapons.
But no leaders on the Continent appear ready to follow Blair. A week before the Germans, the Swedes elected a Social Democrat Cabinet whose view of the Iraqi issue roughly matches that of Schroeder. And French President Jacques Chirac is increasingly stressing the need to not launch any action against Baghdad without a greenlight from the U.N. Security Council — a rather unlikely development.
Most EU governments are remaining silent. Japan’s move to improve relations with North Korea show that it, too, is distancing itself America’s Iraqi policy. It is clear that if Bush opts for a pre-emptive strike against Iraq, he can only count on British and Israeli backing at the moment.
This is not the result that Bush — who was naive enough after the 9/11 tragedy to confess his surprise at the fact there existed people who did not like Americans — has had in mind. And the number of people who feel this way about the U.S. has dramatically increased in the year that has passed since then.
Commenting on a recent fascinating interview with U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, the Financial Times stated that she and the president, “believed they can both dominate other countries and build alliances with them.” What they have in mind was revealed by Bush in an address last June at the West Point Military Academy. His aim, he said, was to build a military force that no other country could hope to equal, thus limiting world competition to trade and other peaceful pursuits.
If Bush knew a little more about history and psychology, he would understand there are few governments that will acquiesce to that megalomaniac and childish approach. But it won’t be easy to convince him to change his mind.
The only way to restore balance to the partnership between America and its allies is for the latter to become stronger. Russia is now in decay. Japan has apparently given up its great ambitions. China can become a major threat. That only leaves Europe, which in the past few months has taken an increasingly vocal stance against U.S. trade and environmental policies.
In coming months the EU is to open its doors to a series of former Soviet satellites, as well as to the islands of Cyprus and Malta. At the same time, it will strengthen its structure by reducing the veto rights of individual member-states. Furthermore, a special commission chaired by former French President Giscard d’Estaing has proposed to give the union an elected president and a common foreign minister. While it is understandable that such plans invite skepticism, they are probably the only way to achieve any degree of equilibrium in the trans-Atlantic relationship.
Unfortunately, recent developments are not precisely going in that direction. Following the German election and Blair’s decision to back Bush’s line in the Iraqi crisis, the EU is now divided among three poles — London, Paris and Berlin. These are the very members whose agreement is the foremost condition for the European Union to live up to its name.
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