Common foreign policy still eludes unified Europe

Smaller EU states took exception to a meeting on Friday between Britain, France, and Germany.

If US policymakers had any doubts about how enthusiastically their European allies would line up for the war against terrorism, the past few weeks have put their fears to rest.

Indeed, the divisions among Western countries in the coalition have appeared not between Europe and the United States, but between the big European nations which have military forces to offer and their smaller neighbors who feel left behind.

At their summit in Belgium on Friday, European Union leaders expressed their "total solidarity with the United States" and stated "unequivocally" their "full support for the action being taken against terrorism in all its aspects."

And although some voices have been raised in Europe against the bombing campaign in Afghanistan - mainly by "green" parties and left-wing groups - they remain marginal for the time being.

On the military front, Britain has led the way as the only European nation so far to have directly participated in the missile strikes against Taliban targets and Osama Bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan.

But France too is eager to join in, probably using its highly trained special forces.

"It is possible that French special forces will be associated with certain actions," French Defense Minister Alain Richard said last week. "We are in the planning phase with our American partner, and there will be successive phases. There are no prior limitations to our participation."

The Italian government offered troops when Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi met President Bush in Washington last week, but appears to have been rebuffed. Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero told an Italian weekly on Friday that his country would play "a strategically meaningful role in the so-called phase three" of operations in Afghanistan, "after the air raids and ground attacks, when Afghanistan must be pacified."

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, meanwhile, has announced that Berlin was ready to provide anti-chemical and anti-biological warfare forces, as well as medical teams, to support US operations in Afghanistan.

That offer to commit combat-ready troops to a troublespot far beyond Europe's borders marks a qualitative leap in German readiness to take on military responsibilities in world affairs.

Ten years ago, during the Gulf War, a more timid German government offered money to pay for the coalition deployment, but no men. Still hobbled by its history, "nobody would have expected from us that Germany would participate in international efforts to secure freedom, justice, and stability other than with secondary efforts," Mr. Schröder told parliament recently. "That era of German post-war policy has irrevocably passed."

If the war against terrorism has given Schröder an opportunity to claim a place for Germany at the top table of international affairs, he has carried his people with him.

Though some leaders of the Greens party - a junior coalition partner in government - have expressed reservations about US raids on Afghanistan, polls show that 65 percent of Germans support their country's participation in military missions.

"Suddenly we woke up and had to ask ourselves: What now? What can we do for our own security?' " says Klaus Linsenmeier, an analyst at the Heinrich Böll Foundation, a Berlin think tank.

Schröder has been careful, however, to frame his country's new self-confidence within European parameters, calling in a speech last Thursday for a strengthening of the European Union's nascent Common Foreign and Security Policy. "We are ready to make Europe into an international player with global influence," he told the German parliament.

Some observers see the current crisis undermining moves toward such a policy, pointing to the way in which different European countries have played different roles in the coalition.

"There is a re-nationalization of foreign policy, because it is a matter of different capabilities and feelings of interest," argues Dominique Moïsi, an analyst at the influential French Institute for International Relations. "This is a litmus test for Europe."

Certainly, some of the smaller European countries were angry that just before Friday's EU summit, the leaders of Britain, France, and Germany held a private meeting to discuss Afghanistan.

EU President Romano Prodi spoke for them when he told journalists that it was "a shame that some countries are going to be attending and some not."

Newspapers in Italy, which was not invited to the mini-summit, arranged by French President Jacques Chirac, condemned the meeting as a blow to European unity in the coalition. The private talks were "a slap in the face to Europe", commented Corriere della Sera.

At the full summit, nevertheless, the 15 leaders expressed their unreserved support for US policy, so long as military operations remain carefully targeted. And they were unanimous in their desire to play as full a role as possible in the campaign against terror.

"This is the first time, on a subject concerning international security, that the 15 ... stand together," Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian prime minister and current president of the European Council, told the French daily Le Monde.

And though not all members were in a position to provide troops for the campaign, the European Union "has other more specific tasks that it can perhaps carry out better than others," Mr. Verhofstadt added. Washington had asked him, he said, for European help on the law enforcement and humanitarian front, and for diplomatic efforts in the Middle East.

Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer are currently on separate tours of the Middle East.

Lucian Kim in Berlin contributed to this report.

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