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Eu party crashed by iraq war { April 16 2003 }

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Copyright 2002 The International Herald Tribune |

EU's party for new 10 crashed by war in Iraq
Frank Bruni/NYT The New York Times
Wednesday, April 16, 2003

ATHENS The road from the airport into the heart of this city is lined with the flags of the European Union: not only the 15 countries in the club, but also the 10 whose leaders will sign accession treaties here Wednesday.

The signing ceremony, at the foot of the Acropolis, represents a milestone in the Union's largest expansion, and the flags are a testament to that - the symbolic assertion of a stronger, more integrated Europe.

But at the end of the road, in the city's central square, hangs a different kind of banner.

"Not wanted: the butchers Blair, Aznar and company," reads the sign, which was raised by anti-war protesters and takes aim at the British and Spanish prime ministers and others in the union who supported the invasion of Iraq.

Greece, like France and Germany, opposed it. The placement of the banner, across the street from the Greek Parliament, evokes that schism and the degree to which it overshadows the convergence of European heads of state for the ceremony and a series of meetings here this week.

Intended as a showcase of unity, their gathering comes at a time of significant division.

"This was supposed to be a historic summit, showcasing Europe on the upswing," said Steven Everts, a Dutch researcher at the Center for European Reform, an independent group based in London. "That's what the stage managers planned."

"But that's not how it feels," Everts continued. "Europe is in a foul mood. Everybody's got grudges against everybody else."

Despite the efforts of many of the EU's leaders, it could not speak with a single voice about the American-led campaign to depose Saddam Hussein.

President Jacques Chirac of France worked to block a United Nations Security Council resolution to authorize explicitly the use of force in Iraq. Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain sent troops there. So as Chirac, Blair, Chancellor Gerhard Schroder of Germany and other European heads of state began arriving here Tuesday night, they confronted issues that ranged beyond their originally planned discussions about the kind of muscle Europe could exert in the world.

They first had to see if the union can heal the internal wounds opened by the American-led military campaign to depose Saddam.

Before that campaign, many Union leaders talked about a common European foreign policy backed by a stronger European defense force. Many still do.

But the war in Iraq underscored the difficulty of that goal and created new questions, including what kind of role Europe should and can play in the reconstruction of Iraq and where the United Nations fits into the process.

Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, accepted an invitation to address European heads of state at a meeting here on Thursday morning. He is expected to make a pitch for the UN's vigorous involvement.

Already Tuesday night, the atmosphere here was tense, as hundreds of anti-war and anti-globalization protesters distributed leaflets that encouraged people to take to the streets Wednesday and Thursday.

Greek law enforcement officials expect thousands of demonstrators and, to maintain order and security, plan to shut down public transportation in most of the city center and close the center to regular traffic Wednesday and Thursday.

More than 10,000 police officers will be on hand.

Greece has been the site of especially fervent protests against the war, and the U.S. Embassy in Athens has been under frequent siege.

Britain, too, has been a target of Greek anger. Late last week, the organizers of an international book fair here announced that they had withdrawn their invitation to British participants, who were supposed to be the guests of honor.

Apart from the war, there are conflicts within the Union, and its expansion may sharpen them.

The addition of 10 countries, which are slated to become members next year, raises questions about the balance between powerful Union stalwarts like France and Germany and tiny newcomers like Malta.

While some of the more populous countries would like to abolish the Union's rotating six-month presidency, which Greece currently holds, many of the less populous countries would like to maintain it.

"We have to readjust certain institutions," said Panayiotis Ioakimidis, the president of the Hellenic Center for European Studies here, in an interview Tuesday.

But Ioakimidis said that the challenges confronting the Union should not divert attention from the significance of Wednesday's ceremony, which will bring many formerly Communist Eastern European countries into the Union's fold.

"It's a huge contribution to stability, prosperity and democracy in Europe," he said, adding that it demonstrated that recent conflicts were a setback for the Union, not a change of course.

"On the fundamental question of whether to forge ahead with European unity and integration, there is no serious disagreement," Ioakimidis said.

Copyright 2002 The International Herald Tribune

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