International Information Programs
Office of Research Issue Focus Foreign Media Reaction

February 25, 2004

February 25, 2004





**  Europe's Big Three acting together could be a "new force of European integration."

**  The summit's secondary purpose was to "close the bitter divisions exposed" by the Iraq war.

**  Skeptics say policy differences will distance the UK from the "Franco-German axis."

**  Smaller states assail would-be EU "board of directors," will not be "bossed around."




'The Three Junketeers'--  Reaction to the Feb. 18 "mini-summit" of German Chancellor Schroeder, French President Chirac and British Prime Minister Blair varied considerably in their home-country press.  Some French and German dailies declared the three "the natural leaders of Europe" who can, "by working together," give Europe the "direction and unity" it lacked during the Iraq crisis.  Germany's independent Financial Times Deutschland contended that there is "no alternative to the trilateral leadership."  Another German paper argued that making Europe "function in the era of unlimited enlargement" required leadership lest there be "eurosclerosis."  French papers argued that the "Franco-German axis no longer carries sufficient weight" to maintain its influence in an expanded EU and that bringing Britain's Blair into the mix "brings an Atlantic seal of approval that will appeal" to the EU's newer members.


To skeptics, EU's Big Three 'have little in common'--  Other commentators in France and Germany judged that the association of Chirac and Schroeder with Blair was a "tactical" one by "three politically weakened leaders" aimed at putting "an end to the quarrel over Iraq."  The former "want to embrace Great Britain in order to embrace America" while the latter, in the words of an Italian analyst, hopes to "influence the Union with British logic."  A conservative French paper averred that "the sole credibility of this troika" lies in EU defense.  Britain's left-of-center Guardian agreed that "underlying differences remain" between the three states and noted that the "Franco-German marriage" remains "fundamental to French European policy."  Britain's conservative outlets chided the prime minister for being "over-anxious to repair relations with France and Germany" and said Blair "should be casting Britain's lot" with the EU's "ten newcomers" who are "pro-American converts to free markets and open societies." 


A 'vain and conceited triumvirate'--  Spanish and Italian dailies detected "widespread mistrust" of the summit, seeing it as an attempt to forge an EU "directorate" that "officially promoted itself as the government of the enlarged Europe."  While one Italian writer allowed that in "what seems to be a confused and disorderly Europe" such directorates are "inevitable," others saw "no added value" in a troika to solve Europe's problems of "red inelasticity and over-taxation."  Claiming that the Big Three were "trying to impose their point of view" on other EU partners, Spain's conservative ABC stated that "division is not the best way to secure a strong Europe," contending that "agreement through dialogue on the big issues" would best guarantee a "more prosperous, integrated and supportive Europe."  Austrian and Danish writers counseled against "overreacting" to the summit, noting that closer coordination among the Big Three "could greatly simplify" EU decision-making.


EDITOR:  Steven Wangsness


EDITOR'S NOTE:  This analysis is based on 35 reports from 10 countries, February 15-23, 2004.  Editorial excerpts from each country are listed from the most recent date.



BRITAIN:  "Focusing On Reform"


Wolfgang Munchau commented in the independent Financial Times (2/23):  "Economic reform is about improving an economy’s productive capacity, nothing more, nothing less.  Everything under the headline of economic reform should be judged in this light, including the five-point communiqué issued by Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder and Tony Blair at their summit last week.  They promised more money for research and development; more employment; cuts in welfare spending; cuts in the budget of the European Union; and new European commissioner for economic policy coordination.  But none of these goes to the core of what is wrong with Europe’s economy....  Europe’s leaders should instead focus on the causes of the steady fall in economic growth....  Politicians can do little to reignite consumer spending--another source of economic weakness--given the various constraints that come with economic and monetary union.  But they can do something about investment....  There is increasing evidence that regulation is one of the main factors holding back private-sector investment....  What Europe needs, therefore, is a narrower focus on product markets--modern competition laws, less bureaucracy and lower barriers of entry."


"The Three Junketeers:  France And Germany Had Blair For Dinner"


The conservative Times took this view (2/23):  "Mr. Blair has been over-anxious to repair relations with France and Germany and is still too keen to claim policy victories when none are visible to the naked eye.  They are Europe’s biggest players, but economically France and Germany are also its weakest links.  They need Britain more than Britain needs them; by bending over backwards to please them, Mr. Blair himself looks weak and has not done Europe a favor."


"Encouraging Start"


The independent Financial Times editorialized (2/20):  "It is probably as well that Germany, France and Britain did not achieve much at their first fully fledged trilateral summit this week, given that 'achievements' in the form of diktats to the rest of the European Union was just what many of their partners feared most....  The choice of that successor will be one of the big issues at the next summit of the Big Three, expected this summer.  Harmony is by no means assured in this tricky trilateral relationship but, compared with the rift between them a year ago over Iraq, it is remarkable it exists at all."


"Blair Must Not Blow His European Triumph"


The conservative Telegraph editorialized (2/19):  "Never did Britain appear more at the heart of Europe than at yesterday's trilateral summit in Berlin....  For his part, the prime minister seeks to convince a skeptical domestic electorate that his 'passionate' commitment to both the transatlantic relationship and the union is paying off.  Events of the past year--the invasion of Iraq, the imminence of enlargement--have handed him a diplomatic coup....  The seismic shifts which are taking place offer Britain an opportunity to reassert Europe's vocation as a union of nation states rather than a would-be federation.  France and Germany, the old motors of integration, have alienated many of their partners by their behavior over Iraq and the stability pact....  The problem is Mr. Blair's ambivalence....  This may be the hour of Britain within European councils, but it is far from certain that he is the man to match it."


"Tony's Berlin Love Fest Is A Doomed Affair"


Rosemary Righter wrote in the conservative Times (Internet version, 2/19):  "The ten newcomers to the EU this May are all pro-American converts to free markets and open societies.  Mr. Blair should be casting Britain’s lot with this new Europe, not the old."


"Who Rules Europe?"


Timothy Garton Ash judged in the left-of-center Guardian (Internet version, 2/19):  "The Berlin summit was trial, not error.  There are two reasons why it won't be the beginning of a permanent directorate.  First, it brought together three politically weakened leaders of states that still have very different approaches to Europe and to each other.  An adviser to Chirac says the Franco-German marriage remains fundamental to French European policy; many Germans agree.  So long as they stick to the marriage metaphor, this makes Tony Blair either lover or mistress....  The underlying differences remain.  It was very noticeable...that Chirac was effusive in his...praise for the Franco-German special relationship, while not mentioning Blair or Britain once.  Meanwhile, Britain has many other hands tugging at its sleeve:  those of its Iraq war allies, such as Spain and Poland, and its allies in economic liberalization, such as the Scandinavian countries; the long arm of the U.S. and the tweedy paws of domestic Euroskepticism  So Berlin was just a beginning.  The new, enlarged Europe won't work at all if everything depends on the conclusions of 25 heads of state sitting round that vast new table in the Council of Ministers building in Brussels.... It remains true today that if France and Germany don't act together, nothing much will go forward in Europe.  However, it's no longer true that if they do, it will.  Not even the big three, on their own, are enough to secure such outcomes.  Starting today, the morning after Berlin, we have to explore how Italy, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands and other member states can be directly involved in setting the strategic directions for Europe."


"Europe Cannot Be Split Into First And Second Divisions"


The center-left Independent editorialized (2/18):  "If Mr. Blair had hoped that by reviving relations between London, Paris and Berlin he would close the bitter divisions exposed by the Iraq war, he must now be aware that he risks opening a new set of fissures.  Among the signatories are Poland, Spain and Italy, three of Mr. Blair's closest allies on the war.  These governments are now dismayed that today's summit might mark the launch of an informal 'directorate' of Europe's three biggest states.  For implicit in the exclusive nature of today's meeting is that there is a first and a second division....  For now, they are at one in demanding such things as a cap on EU spending.  But it will surely not be long before national interest rears its head once again."


FRANCE:  "Two Plus One"


Charles Lambroschini commented in right-of-center Le Figaro (2/19):  “The association between Chirac, Schroeder and Blair is a tactical one.  On the eve of important transatlantic meetings, France and Germany want to embrace Great Britain in order to embrace America....  The G8...and the elections in Baghdad are excellent opportunities to put an end to the quarrel over Iraq.  Especially now that President Bush, in a difficult position with his own public, has chosen to lower his tone....  But the fact is that the Big Three have little in common....  The sole credibility of this troika is the EU defense....  The Treaty of Rome continues to play an important role:  it confirms that against America, the European identity is a reality.”


"The 'Big Three' Seek To Boost European Economy"


Pierre Bocev commented in right-of-center Le Figaro (Internet version, 2/19):  "Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder, and Tony Blair...presented proposals to improve the economic competitiveness of the European Union....  It is all rather an anticlimax.  If the Franco-Germano-British 'triumvirate' wanted to prove...that they were no threat to their European partners, the operation looks like it succeeded.  The 'seminar'...produced a stream of good intentions but few innovative proposals.  Italy, Spain and other EU members that had protested loudly against the emergence of a 'directorate' of the three large countries can feel reassured....  Apart from economic concerns...Chirac, Schroeder, and Blair were to discuss future EU policy and the major international problems of the moment.  But on that front too, few proposals were expected.  EU reform has been blocked since the stalemate of discussions on the Constitution at the Brussels summit two months ago.  There is little likelihood that they will be able to resume over the coming weeks, despite the imminence of EU enlargement, on 1 May....  On the subject of Iraq, differences remain between Great Britain on the one side and France and Germany on the other.   Paris in particular does not want NATO troops to be deployed for the moment on the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates."


"A New Balance"


Gerard Dupuy commented in left-of-center Liberation (2/18):  “The EU’s political dysfunction is creating a new and urgent situation.  Barely a year ago the EU experienced one of its worst rifts over its Iraqi policy but mostly over its policy towards the U.S.  The EU’s big three have personal reasons to want to glue the pieces together....  But the Berlin summit also reflects the positions on Europe adopted by each.  The summit reflects Chirac’s idea of a coalition of pioneers based on shared areas of interest, such as military interests.  The three men meeting in Berlin may not totally consider themselves as the natural leaders of Europe, as some are saying.  But the circumstances of their meeting favor this interpretation....  Even if this group came together somewhat accidentally, it is clear that the Franco-German axis no longer carries sufficient weight to safeguard its European role.  A three-way pact of non-aggression would be a way of safeguarding that role.  To achieve this the heavyweights will be walking on eggs.”


"Paris, Berlin And London Want To Lead Europe"


Luc de Barochez judged in right-of-center Le Figaro (2/18):  “With their initiative, Paris, Berlin and London are addressing two of their major handicaps:  their weak economic competitiveness and their military and political insignificance on the international scene....  By working together they feel that they can bring Europe what it lacked in the Iraqi crisis:  direction and unity.  In a way the war in Iraq was a failure and a lesson for each of the three men:  Blair did not succeed as Europe’s Atlantic leader; Schroeder did not manage to stop the war from happening; and Chirac failed to rally Europe against the U.S.  Today these three men feel they have everything to gain from working together....  The Franco-German couple has taken stock of its limited influence in an expanded Europe.  Great Britain’s participation brings an Atlantic seal of approval that will appeal to Northern European nations.”


GERMANY:  "Berlin Summit"


P. Sappok commented on regional radio station Suedwestrundfunk of Stuttgart (2/20):  "The idea of a 'super commissioner' only serves to emphasize Germany, France, and Britain's claim to lead the EU....  On the one hand, the three are now interfering with the EU Commission's responsibilities, and, on the other hand, we cannot assume that they seriously consider occupying this vacancy with a member from a smaller, not their countries.  This could create some unease in the EU.  The fact that this unease has not yet come to the fore could also be based on the smaller member states being happy that the larger EU nations again feel committed to showing their responsibility and strive for unity.  If we are realistic, it is Germany, France and Britain that have the power and influence to push the EU ahead.  Nobody should feel ignored, since if decisions are to be made, the word of Malta counts as much as Germany's in processes where unanimity is the principle.  Nobody should feel pushed in the corner by this summit...since too little came out of it."


Trojan Horse"


Center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine judged (2/20):  "Time will tell whether Messrs. Schroeder, Chirac and Blair and Schroeder will get their super commissioner for economic reforms, but it is clear why the trio introduced this new EU figure in the debate:  Germany and France in particular want a counterweight to a policy of the EU Commission that restricts their intervention possibilities and makes their industrial policy more difficult.  This policy has nothing to do with the formulated goal of improving the [EU's] economic potential but much with satisfying particular interests....  Many EU governments have got stuck with economic policy shortcomings; these shortcomings cannot be repaired with a number of EU initiatives....  The real goal for a European economic policy is easy to define:  the EU bodies must create open markets and competitiveness--especially against the member states....  But this is something, Schroeder, Chirac, and Blair do not like.  They are pursuing a double goal with their super commissioner initiative:  on the one hand, they know that the EU Commission is much more susceptible to a discretionary intervention policy if it can pursue it on its own.  Bureaucrats in Brussels think much of focusing competencies and coordination.  On the other hand, the three want to transfer the role of a Trojan horse in the EU Commission to the super commissioner.  To put it differently:  the 'reform commissioner' is to act as the preserver of interests of the big three and represent their industry policy problems.  It is to be hoped that these calculations will fail."


"Big Players"


Right-of-center Nordsee-Zeitung of Bremerhaven noted (2/20):  "It is important to see how reasonably and to the point the three nations use the power they doubtlessly have.  This is why they did not only cause criticism; smaller nations in particular like Luxembourg, which feel especially committed to the European idea, expect greater impulses from this cooperation than from the big palaver rounds among all EU countries.  The larger countries like Italy and Spain must be opposed to in principle, since they are excluded from this circle.  But wounded vanity plays the considerable role with Italy's Berlusconi."


"No Substitute"


Margarete Limberg commented on national radio station Deutschlandfunk of Cologne (2/18):  "This [trilateral cooperation] is more necessary than ever before if the union of 25 member states wants to survive and resist the pressure of globalization....  If the three will talk about the big problems first, others could benefit too....  Irritation and polarization can only arise if the three lack the necessary caution but try to press through their special interests aggressively....  It remains to be seen whether the actions speak louder than the words.  Anyway, the impression remains that the tree are overestimated....  The summit does not nurture the suspicion of a directorate treating others like children....  One reason for this is that Germany, France and Britain are only cooperating in a few sectors....  Domestic difficulties will restrain Blair from promoting European unity too much.  This also means that French-German cooperation still carries a special responsibility for Europe.  The trio is no substitute."


"The Tousled Three"


Guenther Nonnenmacher opined in center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine (2/19):  "Those who feel that they belong to the leadership of the EU protested most against the British, French and German summit.  That is hypocritical.  Only two days ago the Italian and Spanish interior ministers were sitting at a table with the interior ministers of the three countries without wondering how Belgians, Greeks or Danes felt about it--because they know that this is the only way to get forward in a specific matter.  However, one can understand the annoyance.  First, Schroeder and Chirac demonstrated their leadership brutally in relation to the Iraq war.  Now, they have included Blair to overcome this impression.  But the other Europeans don't want a few countries to rule over the EU or a triumvirate, particularly as the three look pretty tousled at home.  What the others want is indirect and well-meaning leadership trying to find fair compromises." 


"Europe Needs Leadership"


Wolfgang Proissl opined in business daily Financial Times Deutschland of Hamburg (2/18):  "German-French leadership that brought forward the smaller EU up to the 1990s is the yardstick.  There would not have been any internal market or currency union in Europe without the initiatives from Paris and Berlin, but their power is not sufficient for a EU with 25 members.  Similar strong impulses for Europe can only come about if the two unite with the British, who are unlike the Germans and French but like many new members more Atlantic and skeptical about integration.  There is no alternative to the trilateral leadership." 


"Trio Instead Of Tandem"


Stefan Kornelius opined in center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (2/15):  "It is one of the great European hypocrisies that, if the big nations join forces, the other nations will cry out loud and speak of a forced policy, diktat, and naked interests.  But if nobody takes over leadership, we can read something like eurosclerosis, standstill, or national intrigue in the headlines.  Europe only works if all parties involved are of the same opinion, something that is very rare, or if opposition to a certain policy can be dissolved with money and nice words.  This is called a policy of consensus or compromise.  But this policy cannot be established any more in a Europe of 25.  The meeting...between Germans, French, and British on Wednesday is an example of how Europe can function in the era of an unlimited enlargement.  It can function because the trio, unlike the Franco-German tandem, has more credibility.  Mainly the eastern Europeans, but also Spain and Italy will feel better represented in foreign and security policy if the British are abroad.  This is why we should get used to this constellation.  It only reflects the position of Europe with its unfinished instruments in the balance between giving up sovereignty and pursuing one's own national policy....  Otherwise, the trio should be satisfied by playing the role of a supervisory council:  to design great strategies, spread a good mood, and by showing cohesiveness thus hushing up that everything is upside down in this extended board."


ITALY:  "The Directorate’s Warning:  Immediate Reforms"


Paolo Valentino noted in centrist, top-circulation Corriere della Sera (2/19):  “The Berlin summit of the big three marks the birth not of a directorate but of a new force of European integration, a sort of maieutic group that does not hide the almost pedagogic ambition to restore a driving force and to indicate the future road to a Europe that is just around the corner from yet another appointment with history....  And while the federal chancellor is giving assurances that they 'don't want to dominate anyone,’ the strong symbolism of the scenario, with the open letter to the presidents of the Commission and Council, which was signed in front of TV cameras as if it were a treaty, suggests that everyone else will be obliged to go along with it.”


"Fanciful Crusades"


Adriana Cerretelli opined in leading business daily Il Sole-24 Ore (2/19):  “Whether we like it or not, the Anglo-French-German triumvirate officially promoted itself as the government of the enlarged Europe....  After having put the European defense issue back on track, for which it had and has all the necessary requirements, it is now trying to address the economy, a rather slippery terrain because of the difference in views....  The idea that the enlargement will make the EC model untenable and that throughout the years Europe stifled the competitiveness of its industry due to red tape, overly regulated binding forces, market inelasticity, and over-taxation is now almost a tautology.  We do not see the added value that the triumvirate can give to the solution of both problems.  [The triumvirate’s] vanity and conceit risks greatly complicating these problems, by damaging everyone, including itself.”


"The Directorate Was Born Dead"


Elite, classical liberal daily Il Foglio observed (2/19):  “The only tangible Germany’s decision to forego the veto on the reduction of the VAT for French restaurants.  If this is the way things stand, then we can say that there was a mighty effort for a small result....  Nothing was said on the controversial points, like the institutional treaty and relations with America....  For the time being, no directorate was born, especially because the others made it understood that they have no intentions of being bossed around.”


"The Europe Of Three That Excludes Italy"


Bernardo Valli opined in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica (2/18):  “The most evident novelty in the Berlin summit scheduled for today is the participation of Great Britain in a meeting which is normally reserved for the French-German couple....  This is not only about an important change in the community framework that causes anger in those who have been excluded.  The co-optation of the British prime minister, champion of Atlantic Europe, on behalf of the German chancellor and the French president has a precise meaning.  It is impossible not to interpret this as a mending of the fracture that was blatantly caused one year ago by the famous ‘letter of the eight’ on Iraq and signed by Blair, Aznar, Berlusconi and others who had taken sides with the U.S., in opposition to Chirac and Schroeder who were against Bush’s preemptive war.  It’s clear that inviting Blair to Berlin is equivalent to a willful opening or a propitiatory gesture toward the other side of the Atlantic.  This is one of the many gestures that have been made recently.  Blair is a bridge between the two worlds.  He can be a messenger.  He is a European figure who guarantees fidelity to the Superpower.”


"Small Ambitions For The Great Union"


Adriana Cerretelli judged in leading business daily Il Sole-24 Ore (2/18):  “Those who are well informed claim that the idea for a directorate of three came from London, for domestic policy reasons, and for international prestige.  On one side there is Tony Blair’s secret hope of converting pounds into euros in the next legislature and to...influence the Union with British logic and by watering down the French-German one:  starting with fiscal and social policy, budget and defense.  On the other side is his anxiousness to put an end to Britain’s solitude, to have more weight in Europe in order to gain respect in America by bringing the Franco-German military ambitions back under NATO’s umbrella....  In a Europe that is lacking a precise identity, ideals and long-term strategies, it is once again inevitable that the British vision and a more American than European economic model are destined to prevail....  Directorates are not liked by anyone, especially by those who are excluded from them.  But in what seems to be a confused and disorderly Europe, these directorates are inevitable.  Whether they will serve to govern the Union, to give it a voice, weight and credibility on a global level remains to be seen.  For the time being, in Berlin there are three weak leaders who are trying to gain the consensus that they do not have at home.  If this is the way things stand, the great Europe that will be born on May 1 seems condemned to become smaller and smaller.”


RUSSIA:  "A New Entente In The Making"


Nikolai Paklin filed from Paris and Rome for official government Rossiyskaya Gazeta (2/20):  "The meeting in the German capital completed the forming of a new Entente.  The results of the two-day talks among French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are set forth on eight pages in writing.  But that is only the tip of the iceberg.  The Berlin summit, in effect, is more evidence of the Big Three striving for leadership--not only economic but also political and military--in united Europe.  As the EU's enlargement entails ever more problems, Paris, Berlin and London believe that the Union needs a 'hard core' and different countries will follow different time-tables to integrate into it."


"Wayward Rookies"


Anatoliy Anisimov reported from Berlin for official parliamentary Parlamentskaya Gazeta (2/20):  "Even before it started, the summit came under heavy fire from most EU members who saw it as an attempt to usurp power.  But the reason Schroeder, Chirac and Blair met was really to consider issues that are vital to the European Union as it is preparing to accept new members, some of them wishing to try their mettle the way Poland does in attempting to block the adoption of a constitution."


"Trying To Save The EU"


Vitaliy Makarychev said in reformist Izvestiya (2/20):  "It was more like a conference of specialist doctors concerned over the state of health of their patient, the European Union.  In describing the Troika's position in his opening statement, Gerhard Schroeder suggested the following formula, 'what is good for our three countries is good for all of the EU.'  The Berlin meeting attests to a rapid rapprochement among the EU's three major states.  A new Paris-Berlin link came into being during the Iraq crisis.  But it proved incapable of leadership in the big EU.  Partly, that was due to strong opposition from the United States, which contributed to forming a pro-Atlantic party, with London, Madrid and Warsaw at the head, inside the

Union....  Foreign policy problems have made Tony Blair turn to Europe.  London wants to be more independent and seeks a compromise with France on key issues.  For their part, France and Germany realize that, without support from Britain, they can't get the EU to follow them.  As the interests of the three countries coincide, the Berlin summit seems in order."


"Mixed Feelings"


Yury Shpakov reported from Berlin for reformist Vremya Novostey (2/19):  "The Berlin accords, to a varying degree, are binding only for the parties involved.   Most of the EU's other members and candidate countries have mixed feelings and fear that Big Troika's 'separatism' may affect the current balance in inter-state relations."


"Chirac, Schroeder, Blair Meet Again"


Yevgeniy Grigoryev remarked in centrist Nezavisimaya Gazeta (2/18):  "With the situation over Iraq defused, the French and Germans are eager to bury the hatchet in a dispute with Washington and its chief ally London once and for all.  Schroeder is leaving for Washington on a 'fate-making' visit shortly.  A chill is being predicted with Russia this time....  The chief reason for the Anglo-French-German Troika meeting now is that the EU is in trouble.  It is about the Constitution.  Without it, the Union, with a membership of 25 countries, may become unmanageable."


AUSTRIA:  "The Bonfire Of The Vanities"


Foreign affairs editor Martin Stricker commented in independent provincial daily Salzburger Nachrichten (2/19):  “Enter the critics during the run-up (to the EU big three’s Berlin meeting):  As expected there were warning cries of a ‘directorate,’ of the three most powerful EU members forming a clique, of a Europe of two or more levels, and even of the entire project’s failure.  The critics were overreacting....  As long as the new ‘triumvirate’ resigns itself to acting within the European Union, there’s no need to worry.  Actually, the EU constitution could have provided the institutional safeguards and guidelines necessary--if it had not been killed by just those nationalist hypocrites, who are now lamenting the loudest.”


"Directorate Without Threat Potential"


Senior editor Joerg Wojahn wrote in liberal daily Der Standard (2/19):  “No need to fret over the ‘big three’ summit in Berlin--the trio’s meeting holds fewer dangers than potential opportunities...  The formation of interest groups could be indispensable in a EU of 25.  Otherwise, institutions such as the Council of Ministers won’t be able to agree on anything within a given period of time.  The joint move of France, Germany and Britain actually presents a number of advantages--and not only because they have a blocking minority within the Council; not only because without them a joint EU defense and security policy would be unthinkable:  the three countries also stand for the major trends within the EU.”


DENMARK:  "Trio Wants To Lead EU Out of Crisis"


Ole Bang Nielsen wrote in center-right Berlingske Tidende (Internet version, 2/18):  "If the big three can agree and stake out a course on some of these difficult issues [facing the EU], it will greatly simplify the decision-making in the coming years for EU cooperation.  Only a few--if any--of the other 22 countries would be opposed if they detected a strong joint political will in the governments in Berlin, Paris, and London.  But at the same time the three governments must not state that they alone, and beforehand, will determine the EU's stances.  That EU cooperation will be reduced to the other member countries in the future just having to show up at EU summit meetings and rubber-stamping what the three big countries have agreed upon.  Already Italy, Spain, and Poland are sulking over the fact that they as 'big countries' have not been invited to the summit meeting in Berlin, and, among the small countries, there is widespread mistrust of what the objective of the 'big three' is with the cooperation."


"One EU--Many Clubs"


Left-wing Information held (Internet version, 2/18):  "For decades, [France and Germany]...on the basis of vastly different political and historic premises, had a common interest in a steadily stronger EU....  Today...Franco-German cooperation has largely outlived itself.  Today, France mostly uses it to delay necessary reforms, for example in agricultural policy, and the Germans have been taking care of narrow national financial interests....  At the same time, both countries have realized that it is necessary to heal the wounds from the Iraq war in relations with the United Kingdom, if Europeans are going to make any progress on the common defense policy....  The [Berlin] conference is special not only because Gerhard Schroeder Jacques Chirac, and Tony Blair, will meet to coordinate their views prior to the upcoming EU summit in March.  They have done that before, but in Berlin, the three will have several of their ministers with them, who will also work on coordinating their polices at a lower and more operational level, and that is something completely new....  There is no reason to panic, as long as it is still the EU's common institutions that the large countries are directing their interest at.  Only on the day when that is no longer the case will there be reason to fear that Europe is government by narrow, great-power interests."


IRELAND:  "The Berlin Summit Meeting"


The center-left Irish Times held (2/20):  "The raison d'être of the European Union has been to moderate relations of power on this continent by pooling sovereignty and sharing decision-making between its large and small member-states.  The summit meeting between the leaders of Germany, France and Britain in Berlin this week seemed at first glance to herald a breach of this fundamental principle as the EU enlarges to 25 members this year.  To confirm it, one would need to show the summit agreed on ways to determine the EU's political future.  It did not do so.  Nevertheless such fears, expressed by smaller and larger states not represented at Berlin, underline the pressing need to conclude negotiations on the constitutional treaty for the Union, which will help prevent the emergence of such a two-tier system.  The summit helpfully pledged itself to complete this task in co-operation with Ireland's EU presidency....  The other EU members must beware of any assumption that because Germany, France and Britain combine half the population and GDP of the EU they are entitled to a determining voice.  They are not.  The European Union is a union of nations and states as well as peoples.  Were it not so the smaller members would never have agreed to share sovereignty by accepting majority voting.  Getting the constitutional treaty right on that crucial issue may be an achievable task of Ireland's EU presidency." 


PORTUGAL:  "A Europe At Different Speeds"


Respected center-left daily Diário de Notícias commented (2/19):  "What some European countries were dreading...ended up happening:  the creation of a European board of directors....  An English-French-German locomotive generates great apprehension among the remaining 12 EU countries, along with the 10 of enlargement, scheduled for May.  Those condemned to travel in the rear cars don't have any doubts that a Europe at different speeds will come to exist.  It only remains to be seen who will stay in the rear cars and if the principal of one commissioner per country and rotating presidencies will be lost."


SPAIN:  "Northern Europe, Southern Europe"


Conservative ABC editorialized (Internet version, 2/18):  "Division is not the best way to secure a strong Europe united around the European Union.  And less so by reviving the outdated north-south battle when the Union is on the point of enlargement.  For this reason, the already relapsed position of the three large countries, Germany, Great Britain and France, which are again today trying to impose their points of view on the other partners, is an act more of force than of search for the necessary cohesion and consensus.  This makes the joint letter that Spain--together with Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, Poland and Estonia--has made public, demanding that the Stability Pact be respected in addition to other important proposals, all the more significant.  They ask that the Stability Pact be respected because it is a guarantee of healthy and lasting growth and an image of solvency and credibility is given by complying with it, as most countries have done, among them Spain, with a discipline and budgetary rigor which was neglected by Germany and France.  Without penalty, in addition, because they then imposed their point of view, forcing Brussels to accept changes to what was until then agreed by all.  Seeking agreement through dialogue on the big issues--the European constitution, economic development, social and labor policies, research and development, et cetera--guarantees a more prosperous, integrated and supportive Europe.  Creating triumvirates to impose decisions is simply going against the EU, returning to divisions which have already been overcome."




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