Europe's War of Independence

A cartoon in El Mundo does an excellent job of capturing the period we are living in: It shows a civilian airplane destroying the Twin Towers. The plane then proceeds to topple the United Nations building and plow through London's Big Ben, ending its journey of destruction at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Only rarely can one use the cliche "the world gone mad" without eliciting derision. A cartoon published recently by the Spanish newspaper El Mundo does an excellent job of capturing the exceptional period we are now living in: It shows a civilian airplane flying over New York City and destroying the Twin Towers. The plane then proceeds to topple the United Nations building and plow through London's Big Ben, ending its journey of destruction at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

When a French diplomat declares, on the eve of a European summit, that one can feel "the electricity in the air," and when one of his colleagues adds that his president will come to the summit with boxing gloves, it is clear that Europe is in trouble. The leaders of the two camps - French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair - made a notable effort to stress what unites them during last weekend's summit in Brussels, and in the end, the European Union passed a unanimous resolution that focused on the need to give the UN a central role in rebuilding Iraq. But one did not need to consult an expert in body language to realize that before their arrival, all 15 European leaders had swallowed a sizable quantity of anti-nausea pills. That may explain why at the dinner, many of them skipped the dessert. The summit's host, Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, the EU's rotating president, was left alone in front of his almond cake.

Some will compare the blow that the war with Iraq has dealt the EU to the "mother of all bombs." The proposed European constitution, which its drafters, headed by former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, had planned to unveil in June, will apparently be the first victim of the crisis. Giscard d'Estaing has already announced that it will be impossible to avoid postponing the presentation of the draft for a few months. At the present moment, a discussion of "the EU's common future" appears to everyone like a surrealist drama. Initiatives related to the Common Foreign and Security Policy, or institutional reforms such as eliminating the rule that decisions must be unanimous and replacing it with a system of approval by a "qualified majority," also seem like a bitter joke.

Commentators attribute the European chaos to the Bush administration's meddling in the old continent. Support for this assessment can be found in the remarks of Robin Cook, the former British foreign secretary who resigned from the cabinet last week to protest his prime minister's actions. In a recent article, he wrote that had Al Gore won the final vote count in the state of Florida, and thereby the presidency, British forces would not now be in the Persian Gulf. The use of such arguments is liable to lead to other sad conclusions about the decline of trans-Atlantic relations: While in the past, the U.S. related to the process of European integration as one of the most important developments of the post-war era, today it views it as a danger; while the Clinton administration encouraged Europe to expand its involvement in Kosovo and other disputes in its "backyard," today George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld are working to frustrate any initiative that is liable to interfere with their hegemonic international agenda.

This agenda is the reason for Washington's enthusiastic support for the entry of the Eastern European countries into the EU. It is what lies behind the idea of "the new Europe," "American" Europe, which will put an end - so the U.S. hopes - to the process of political unification that is being led by the Paris-Berlin axis.

The Bush administration hawks want to believe that the war with Iraq will also put paid to the "war of liberation" being waged by "Old Europe": that Saddam Hussein's defeat will also frustrate the efforts by Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to exploit the international crisis in order to sever the umbilical cord that currently binds them to the U.S. against their will. These hawks predict that as they retreat, the Europeans will try to push the "road map" for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a last-ditch defensive weapon. The idea is to force the Americans to take them into account despite everything and to mend the trans-Atlantic and intra-European rifts at the same time. However, the Americans are liable to interpret this attempt as the death throes of the EU in its old format.

They might be right. The EU's huge planned expansion in 2004 is liable to symbolize the victory of "Anglo-American" Europe over "European" Europe. But such a victory will lead to the development of a "hard core" within the expanded union that will realize the dream of a political union in a narrower framework. The opening shots were already fired last weekend by France, Germany and Belgium, who declared: It is premature to mourn the death of the vision of a federal Europe.