Iraq shadow over E.U. meet

BRUSSELS April 15. Iraq has laid bare the fault-lines of an imperfect decision-making process in the European Union and its institutions. Simultaneously, it has put pressure on the principal actors in the European Council to address these issues on a more urgent basis.

As matters come to a head, 10 new members, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, — most of them members of the erstwhile Soviet bloc — will attend a ceremony to sign The Treaty of Accession to the European Union in Athens on Wednesday.

What might have been the crowning glory for an ascendant E.U. in Athens threatens to be overshadowed by the Iraq issue. The U.N. Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and all the leading players from France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Spain will be present in Athens.

The European Council, which comprises the Heads of State/Government, will meet with the President of the European Convention, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, in an informal session as well.

The Convention, mulling over the issue of E.U. reforms, is debating two key proposals — one of having a European Foreign Minister and the other to alter the six-month rotating "Presidency" of the European Union to a more longer-term "Presidency".

The deep division within the E.U. on the issue of Iraq, with the U.K. and Spain backing the United States to the hilt, and France and Germany refusing to go along with a U.N. resolution to "legalise" a pre-decided war on Iraq, may well hasten this process of reform.

The E.U. is also keen that urgent measures be taken to restore the United Nations "system", one which has been severely undermined by the "unilateralist" war undertaken by the U.S. and Britain.

Yet another European desire seems to be to mend trans-Atlantic fences that were affected in all the emotion that preceded the war. The Germans, some reports say, are keen on taking the lead in the issue after the open tensions between the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, and the Bush administration.

A majority of the new entrants to the E.U. have supported American military action in Iraq, leading the French President, Jacques Chirac, to publicly upbraid them for not being "well brought-up".

Here, in Brussels, conversation tends to veer round to Iraq. As the world grapples with the enormity of the changes that have been militarily engineered by the U.S. and the U.K., some here believe that Syria cannot be next on the list.

With the European Union unable to respond to the opinion of the "European street" on Iraq, suggestions that it could be Syria next are met with considerable dismay.

If Syria becomes the next target (the refrain is that it won't), European opinion would be further enraged and trans-Atlantic tensions could increase. But opinion here would suggest that the Americans are not about to "take out" the Syrian leadership.

There is also an awareness that the U.N. and the E.U. should play a role in the reconstruction (an ugly term to use given the fact that "coalition" troops haven't lifted a finger to stop the looting) of Iraq.

As "pragmatism" prevails, no one would like all the rebuilding of Iraq to be done by the Americans and the British. Given that the all-important export of Iraq is oil, German, French and Russian companies would not like to be "left out" on decision-making.

In Monday's issue of The Guardian, the writer Naomi Klein had this to say on Iraq: "A people, starved and sickened by sanctions, then pulverised by war, is going to emerge from this trauma to find that their country has been sold out from under them."

"They will also discover that their new-found `freedom' — for which so many of their loved ones perished — comes pre-shackled by irreversible economic decisions that were made in boardrooms while the bombs were still falling. They will then be told to vote for their new leaders, and welcomed to the wonderful world of democracy," she said.

"Some argue that it's too simplistic to say this war is about oil. They're right. It's about oil, water, roads, trains, phones, ports and drugs. And if this process isn't halted, `free Iraq' will be the most sold country on earth."

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