Necessitating U.S. harmony with ‘Old Europe’

Last weekend, European leaders met in Brussels, Belgium, to discuss the future direction of the European Union. Immediately following the Madrid, Spain, bombings and subsequent upset in the Spanish election, an environment of closer European cooperation emerged. Aside from the potential ramifications in Iraq, the ousting of Jose Maria Aznar’s Popular Party promises to realign European politics back in the direction of France and Germany – “Old Europe.” Ten nations, mostly from Eastern Europe, will join the European Union on May 1. These nations – Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s “New Europe,” especially Poland – lost an important ally in distancing themselves from the Franco-German leadership of the European Union and European political integration.

Last December, European leaders met to discuss writing a “European constitution” for the European Union and other member countries to adhere to. Through long hours of rigorous debates, a political deadlock emerged with Spain and Poland providing the wrench in the gears of consensus. Poland will join the union on May 1 along with seven other formerly communist states – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Because Poland and Spain are comparable in size and population, a natural alliance emerged between them. The main issue of contention was a complex system of weighted voting – designed to both respect individual member countries while taking into account differences in populations – where Poland and Spain individually demanded more than 90 percent of the weighted voting power as Germany, despite having only half the number of people. Moreover, both nations contributed troops to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, further antagonizing the relationship with France and Germany.

With Jose Luis Rodríguez Zapatero taking over as the Socialist prime minister of Spain, Poland finds itself forced to follow Zapatero’s already-expressed position of reducing the relative power of Spain in the European Union for the sake of further European integration.

To avoid derailing progress on the much-sought European constitution, and being a lone thorn in the side of further European integration, Poland must fall in line with “Old Europe” along with Spain. Coupled with the shock of the Madrid bombings, European integration has gained greater momentum with the tide turning in favor of the generally more pro-integration countries – France and Germany – leading the way.

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski has already said he feels “uncomfortable due to the fact that we were misled with the information on weapons of mass destruction,” and insinuated his consideration of pulling Poland’s 2,400 troops out of Iraq before the earlier-stated date, 2005. Coupled with the new Spanish position on the matter, the Bush administration faces the effect of eroding support on Iraq and a more united and more independent Europe – all resulting from an unfortunate, manipulative political blunder by an erstwhile Spanish ally in Aznar.

Hopefully, this sea change will force the Bush administration to reconsider uncompromising unilateralism in global affairs. Just as a formerly divided Europe has come together to appoint a Europe-wide terrorism coordinator, hopefully the Bush administration will work for rapprochement with a more independent Europe in the interests of combating terror and mending perceptions of U.S. arrogance and disregard for international law. In my opinion, the best way to do this is greater intelligence collaboration between the United States and the new European Union coordinator as well as admitting previous blunders and current inadequacies in the “war on terror.” Perhaps it is time to return to eating french fries.

Douglas Voigt is studying abroad in Germany, and welcomes comments at [email protected]