Iraq: No to war – Europe – “Unity” over war lasts 27 minutes

No to war in Iraq. EU in crisis.

‘Unity’ over war lasts twenty-seven minutes

The emergency summit of the EU last Monday ended in a show of ‘unity’, which lasted all of twenty-seven minutes, according to the Swedish daily, Aftonbladet.

The joint statement referred to war on Iraq as a "last resort", but as soon as the various leaders had signed up to the communiqué, they started to put their own spin on the wording, exposing contradictory positions.

The crisis in the EU remains despite Monday’s desperate show. The summit failed to satisfy both the war hawks and the anti-war opinion. It is clear that all of the member states have different interests to pursue in the war debate.

Bush is still determined to start bombing Iraq, and once this begins the EU leaders will no longer be able to pretend to be united. Then, if not sooner, a severe and deep crisis inside the EU, which the Greek EU presidency has warned about, will occur.

Last weekend’s unprecedented mass demonstrations undoubtedly had an effect on the summit leaders. Blair’s demand for the EU statement to include wording to say that "time is running out" for Iraq were not agreed to by other states. The Swedish Prime Minister, Göran Persson, who has been close to the US position until now, stressed that a war preferably should be avoided and only used as an absolutely last resort. Even the right wing and pro-war Italian government softened its position during the meeting (Rome saw over three million anti-war demonstrators on 15 February).

The head of the UN Kofi Annan, participated as a kind of peace-maker at the summit, but put a more pro-US position. He stressed that inspections cannot go on indefinitely.

By the close of the summit, the final resolution used the formulation that Saddam Hussein was being offered a "last chance".

Immediately after this extraordinary get together of EU states, the conflicting interpretations of the resolution by member governments showed they were just as split as before on the issue of war.

Tony Blair spoke of using military force, while Jacques Chirac continued to oppose military action. Chirac went on to criticise the EU candidate countries from Eastern Europe that support the US for being "irresponsible". In an incredible outburst, Chirac said of the candidate states, "These countries been not very well behaved and rather reckless of the danger of aligning themselves too rapidly with the American position. They missed a great opportunity to shut up."

Entrenched positions

This reflects French and German ruling class fears that the US and Britain will attempt to use the Eastern states to bolster their interests inside the EU. This would be at the expense of Germany and France, who recently formed a new axis.

The gap between EU states such as France and Germany and Britain and Italy is just as entrenched as ever. Eight governmental heads openly supported the US in a public letter a couple of weeks ago: Italy, Britain, Spain, Denmark, Portugal, plus Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland. Later another ten governments in Eastern Europe singed a similar declaration, this one reportedly drafted by a US lobbyist. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld praised these governments as "courageous", during his infamous recent tour in Europe (where he had a public stand up row with the German foreign minister).

On the other side of the debate are, apart from the German and French governments, Belgium, Finland, Austria, Greece, Luxemburg, and, maybe most reluctantly, Sweden. The candidacy countries have jumped into the lap of the US, and are moving even closer to the superpower since German Chancellor Schröder turned to Russian President Putin for support.

These manoeuvres and opposing positions show the potential difficulties in implementing EU enlargement. A further deepening of the crisis could even lead to the enlargement process being put on ice. Opinion polls in the candidacy countries shows increased support for not joining the EU.

All the EU and candidacy EU governments are under immense pressure from both the masses, that oppose war, and from the world’s most dominant economic and military power, the US. Their futures are now linked to US war plans. The German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer admitted in his row with Rumsfeld in Munich that he was unable to convince German public opinion of the validity of war. And of course last Saturday we saw the biggest demonstrations in those countries where governments support war: Rome, London, Madrid and Barcelona.

Whatever the outcome of the war plans, the EU project will be damaged. EU ‘unity’ can at the moment only be achieved by supporting the US, which so far has held an unmoveable position. EU support for a war would indeed give the body a ‘role’, but a deeply discredited one in the eyes of the masses. The alternative is an open split, which has already emerged following the German and French governments’ decision to attempt some kind of independence from the US.

EU states fear US hegemony

The EU crisis, like the recent Nato crisis over war, is in reality a reflection of the problems key EU states face with the attempt by US imperialism to impose its total dominance in world affairs and Bush’s intention to pursue a war in the Middle East so as to enormously increase US hegemony in the region and beyond.

While the British government accepts the leading, and in practice unilateral, role of the US on the world stage, the same proposition is much harder for governments in Germany, France, Russia and China to accept.

Britain has long ago lost its empire and today cherishes a ‘special relationship’ (that of a poodle) with the US in an attempt to ride on the only superpowers’ coat tails and so to increase British imperialism’s power and reach.

For France and Germany things stand differently. France has historically taken a much more independent position from US imperialism. It has its own interests in Iraq and the Middle East and resents the US drive to dominate the region. All the painstaking negotiations the French have made with the Iraqi regime for future lucrative oil and other contracts will be null and void once a war starts. And as last weekend’s large demonstrations in Paris and other French cities and towns testified, the anti-war mood is very strong.

German imperialism has played a more aggressive role in recent years, including despatching troops to Afghanistan. The power also has its own interests in the Middle East that influences its anti-war stance but the SPD/Green coalition government also has to contend with the enormous anti-war domestic mood. As Germany experiences severe economic downturn the government has become deeply unpopular and Chancellor Schröder is fighting for his political life. Schröder is therefore cynically playing the anti-war card in a desperate effort to boost his own position (although as recent disastrous regional election results show, German workers are both anti-war and also opposed to Schröder’s domestic policies).

Schröder has ruled out support for a US war under any circumstances. At present, the French government is also holding to the position that it will not put its signature to a second Security Council resolution sanctioning war.

But when looked at in detail the French position is more ambiguous. Under immense pressure from the US, and fearing they would be completely keep out of the lucrative carve up of a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, France may change its tune. At the moment, Chirac has said he does not see a need for a second UN resolution and favours more inspectors being put on the ground for a pro-longed period. But as war looms this position can change. A French abstention or even a vote for a second resolution authorising war is not entirely ruled out.

From this we have to conclude that working people can have no faith in the UN (a body dominated by imperialist powers) or individual capitalist governments that may at the moment be in collision with the interests of US imperialism. (The same Chirac that at the moment opposes a war against Iraq is busy meddling in the war torn and desperately poor Ivory Coast in Africa on behalf of French imperialist interests).

Whatever final position other powers may take formerly on war, they are unwilling to just roll over and to accept the so-called Bush doctrine: that the US has the right to make ‘pre-emptive’ attacks anywhere. In this context, Chirac and Putin are bargaining for some kind of influence over the actions of mighty US imperialism, particularly in the Middle East.

Two superpowers: US and "world public opinion"

The European Union was promoted as a project to soften contradictions and instability in Europe, and give the EU heads of state some weight in global economics and politics. Now we see this is being put to a severe test and the EU is in deep crisis. To this should be added the growing economic crisis facing the EU. Most of the major EU economies are now experiencing zero-growth rates and huge budget deficits.

All this goes to underline the fact that the ruling classes in Europe are incapable of uniting Europe, or even pulling together in one clear direction for any length of time (apart, of course, from when attacking the welfare system and workers’ conditions). This is especially the case in a time of war and economic downturn.

By contrast last weekend witnessed a marvellous expression of genuine solidarity across European borders by tens of millions of working people in opposition against war. This represents the real potential for a union of European peoples.

Following the mass unprecedented demonstrations, even sections of the pro-war media were forced to acknowledge the real situation. The New York Times commented this week: "There may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion."

For the latter – the working people of the world – to really become a decisive force that can stop war and defeat imperialism, it needs to adopt a clear socialist programme both in Europe and internationally.

Socialists in the anti-war movement put forward a clear alternative to the bosses’ EU. The CWI calls for a truly democratic Europe, a socialist Europe that would see a society based upon needs not profits. This would mark the end of imperialist wars and all the cynical manoeuvring of capitalist governments.

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