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Monday, February 17, 2003

Chirac, Finding France Isolated in a EU Summit Meeting, Blows His Top and Lectures Everybody Else

After flaying Bulgaria, the oldest country in Europe --- founded 18 centuries ago --- for not thinking sufficiently European (read: like the French: read further: toe the line, buster, or you'll see a French veto slapped in face when you try getting into my club), President Jacques Chirac, unaccustomed to being challenged by anybody, journeyed to a EU summit meeting today where Kofi Anan was present. The UN General Secretary urged the EU to come up with a clear unanimous position on Iraq, the only way to avoid war outside the UN with the weasel-like moves of the slippery Saddam. One by one, the EU leaders spoke out; and one by one, it was made clear the French were isolated. Even the German moralists were more flexible. Eventually, at one point, Chirac exploded, started lecturing everybody on the rightness and glories of France, then when others put him down, he retreated and signed the declaration singling out Saddamite Iraq as still in violation of UN resolution 1441.

See "Chirac Fumes at EU Countries Lining Up with the US"

Tony Blair was elated at the end. Jacques Chirac sulked, all the way through the subsequent dinner festivities. And on Tuesday, it got even worse for the stiff-necked sulker. Thirteen East European countries, all candidates for the EU soon, were scolded openly by Chirac --- who seems jumpy as a cat of late, unhinged at finding France isolated with Germany and Belgium in the EU and NATO --- for once more publicly backing the US over Iraq. And once more, ever more testy, Chirac threatened retaliation . . . leading all the 13 either to meet his tirade with scorn or laughter. Chirac Losing It
By contrast, President Bush and Prime Minister Blair, who are supposed to be losing the diplomatic game according to the poll-parroting EU media --- and with echoes here in this country --- seem calmly cool and determined. What explains Chirac's half-cocked eruptions and menaces?

The Answer

In the French political system, you have to understand, Presidents aren't used to direct criticism from anybody: they don't hold press conferences (save to lecture everybody), and never hear any negative comments about their major foreign and security policies on TV and radio, all state-controlled and their bureaucrats told what to have said in the daily news programs. There is, it's true, more freedom for discussing domestic events . . . up to a point anyway, compared to when the Buggy Prof was helping run the UC exchange program at Bordeaux University in the mid-1970s. Censorship was pervasive on everything in those days. Now it mainly keeps foreign and security policies sacrosanct preserves of the betters-in-charge. But foreign and security policies aren't supposed to be contested: not even when the opposition parties dominate the National Assembly and have a cabinet and Premier that can boast a majority there . . . as was the case with Lionel Jospin's Socialist, Green, Communist government.

Witness an extraordinary event two years ago this month. Jospin, visiting the Middle East, commented while in Israel that Hezbollah was a terrorist organization. Nothing new or surprising there; not for Americans. In October last year, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage publicly labeled Hezbollah a greater terrorist threat than even Al Qaeda. Not for the French though. The official term to be used in discussing Hezbollah or Hamas or Islamic Jihad or other Arab terrorist crazies is "resistance movement", very much in line with pandering to the Arabs; and so Jospin's avoidance of French euphemisms --- intended to court Arab countries and show how much they would benefit if, like brutally totalitarian Syria and Iraq, they would abandon American influence for sager and more sympathetic French influence and direction --- was a political bombshell, exploding with furiuous denunciation in the entire French media from left to right, and with scathing comments from politicians of all stripes, even many Socialists, warning the Premier to keep his amateurish hands out of Haute Politique --- power politics and diplomacy. Chirac Rebukes Jospin

Back to the EU and East European Recalcitrants

The EU summit meeting yesterday was almost as bad a moment for Chirac as last October when Tony Blair stood up at another EU meeting and outrightly accused Chirac of hypocrisy and self-serving in rigidly standing against any reforms of the costly, bureaucratically top-heavy EU agricultural system that, among other things, badly hurts developing countries' agricultural exports. Chirac went back to Paris in a huff, then cancelled a journey to England that was already scheduled. He complained that nobody had ever talked to him that way since Mama had rapped him on his knuckles for burping in public (or something like that).

Topping off a bad few days for Chirac in which he found his bullying tactics weren't working --- the French frequently resorting to them in EU politics, by the way: which is why, among other things, Chirac and Schroeder no sooner hatched a scheme three weeks ago to jointly run the EU than all the other EU countries, big or small, tore it apart in public --- was today's meeting in Brussels of the 13 East European candidate-members. Once again, remember, they reaffirmed their support for Bush and Blair, a diplomatic position that led to Chirac's latest eruption, warning them that either they begin thinking "European" or else. Here's how the meeting went according to the International Herald Tribune in Paris: Chirac Fumes

"President Jacques Chirac's warning to the new Europeans of EU and NATO enlargement that they cannot side too much with America and fit his definition of membership in the family of Europe has exposed, with an outburst of pure rage, a profound, long-term contradiction that could tear the EU apart from within. While Europe has bandaged for the moment its wounds over NATO and Iraq at a Brussels summit meeting Monday night - offering up on paper a statement of unity that bears little resemblance to real policy - Chirac essentially told the East Europeans who will swell the EU's membership to 25 over the next three years that they risked being blackballed if they did not demonstrate more loyalty to a conception of Europe's role in the world that suits the French and German governments and not the United States. The violence of the remarks acknowledged openly for the first time one of the basic reasons that Iraq has become such an existential issue for France, and in its manner, Germany. . . .

"Basically, Chirac told the candidates: You must think as France and Germany do. With near total support for his positions in France, Chirac, thought-police style, set up as an obligation for the emerging half of the continent the unanimity at home that Liberation, the left-wing newspaper said over the weekend, "has something suffocating about it."

"And Chirac threatened. He said it would take the vote of only one current EU member in a national referendum to block the entire enlargement process. As for Romania and Bulgaria - perhaps singled out as ingrates because they are grant-supported members of the French-funded organization of nations nurturing the French language - Chirac said, "If they had tried to decrease their chances for getting in Europe, they couldn't have done a better job." Although no other member country spoke in his manner, or offered him support, Chirac insisted the former Soviet bloc countries' attitude "can only reinforce an attitude of hostility" in their regard. This came from a man who clearly sees himself as Europe's dominant voice - but after a majority of 16 countries in NATO, with a procedural maneuver isolating France, forced Sunday night the delivery of defensive material to Turkey that a French, German and Belgian blockade had denied for a month. Rather than applause, Reuters reported from Brussels, there were "seething" reactions, particularly within the European Parliament, to Chirac's tirade...."

How Will France Respond in the UN Security Council

So, as in the last three weeks, the French --- joined by the Germans --- have suddenly found themselves cornered and isolated in Europe: whether in NATO or in the EU or in dealing with 10 East European states that sided explictly with the US. So far, the French haven't maneuvered as badly as the Germans though. Essentially, as the IHT concluded, Chirac never calculated that his EU partners and all the East Europeans would side with the US and the UK, leaving him, the voice of the true, the real Europe (as he sees it), a strained blusterer leaving the heads of all the other governments wondering about his state of mind.

Chirac himself, note right off --- despite hints from French ambassadors through leaks to the press --- is not actually talked about a UN Security Council veto, only opposition . . . which can be expressed by abstaining on any new resolution that finds Iraq in "material breach". No doubt London and Washington will come up with sufficient ambiguity in a resolution that allows for about 2-3 more weeks of inspections before a new report of the chief inspectors, then a vote. That's not certain. The discovery of French isolation with a rigidly moralizing Schroeder German government that is causing major rifts even inside Schroeder Social Democratic Party may lead Chirac to decide that the only remaining leverage France has for blocking the US --- and that includes a last desperate effort to stave off what he and the French political class regard as an American-dominated EU and NATO in the future --- is to wield a veto, then keep their fingers crossed hoping that a military fiasco ensues that will bring down Blair in Britain, rally the European masses to the French cause, and undermine American influence in Europe . . . the ultimate hope in French political calculations, from the extreme left to the extreme right, remaining what it has been for over a decade, or longer: to create a French-influenced bloc as a counterweight to American power and influence globally.