A day after European Union leaders forged a compromise position on Iraq aimed at restoring European unity in a vexing foreign policy crisis, old fault lines began to reappear, with France again threatening to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution mandating force against Iraq.
"The veto is a very strategic element of France's independence," Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin told reporters in Paris. Britain and other European countries that favor rapid action against Iraq oppose such a veto.
Political leaders in many of the 13 countries awaiting admission to the EU angrily denounced a statement by French President Jacques Chirac that they had "missed a great opportunity to keep quiet" during the contentious Iraq debate. The countries have generally sided against France and in favor of the U.S. call for a tough line against Iraq. There were also complaints that the 13 were not invited to the summit.
The 13 countries did jointly endorse the statement of the 15 current EU members, saying that U.N. weapons inspectors should get more time and resources to disarm Iraq peacefully, but that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein needed to cooperate "immediately and fully" in order to avert a war.
But that gesture by the 13, most of them former Communist-ruled states of Eastern Europe, was eclipsed by a continuing dispute over feelings that they were treated as second-class citizens.
"In the European family there are no mommies, no daddies and no kids -- it is a family of equals," said the Polish foreign minister, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz.
Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase continued the domestic analogy, saying: "Every time I have a dispute with my wife, I shout at my sons. So the problem of Mr. Chirac apparently is with the Americans, and not with Romania and Bulgaria." Those two countries are hoping to join the EU in 2007.
The Czech foreign minister, Cyril Svoboda, said in a retort to Chirac, "We are not joining the EU so we can sit and shut up."
Speaking to reporters in London today, British Prime Minister Tony Blair offered some support for these feelings: "I hope no one is suggesting that they should be anything but full members of the European Union and perfectly entitled to express their views."
Blair, the United States' leading ally in Europe on moving quickly to disarm Iraq by force, had wanted the candidate countries to attend the summit and have a say in drafting the final statement. Had they come, their close ties with Washington and their deep concern about preserving the U.S. security umbrella might have helped produce a much tougher statement.
The pro-American position of many of the East Europeans led Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to make a remark, often repeated here, that the continent was now divided between an "old Europe" of France and antiwar Germany and a "new Europe" whose center of gravity had shifted east.
Chirac, the most outspoken leader of the EU "peace camp" that favors giving inspectors more time, had argued against inviting the 13 candidate countries to the meeting. EU officials agreed, saying that the countries could participate only once they were full members. In December, 10 were invited to join in 2004, and still must sign the formal treaties. Most of the 10 will hold referendums later this year.
Blair today sent a letter to the leaders of the 13 candidate countries, underscoring that he had wanted to invite them but was overruled within the EU. "I much regret that it was not possible to reach agreement" to include them, Blair's letter said, according to a transcript obtained by the Reuters news agency. "As you know, I had argued that you should be present and able to contribute fully to the debate."
Blair was able to count on three from Eastern Europe in his Gang of Eight letter signed by eight European leaders, which supported the U.S. position on Iraq and was published in leading newspapers. It was that letter, circulated and published without the advance knowledge of EU officials, that prompted what many here called a full-scale crisis in the union that has seriously set back attempts to form a common European foreign and defense policy.