Saturday, March 15, 2003
War and Britain's role in the European Convention - 15th March 2003, 22.03

Blair has effectively used France's intransigence in the diplomatic battle to gain a vote in the United Nations Security Council as the issue to rally support for himself amongst the Parliamentary Labour Party. France's intention to use an 'unreasonable veto' proved a successful substitute for the veto itself. The diplomatic niceties have dropped away as Blair, Brown and Straw all blamed Chirac and the French government for blocking the not only the Anglo-American-Spanish resolution, but also the role of the United Nations itself.

Gordon Brown said France's pledge to veto represented "an unreasonable blockage on the course of international agreement".

These actions have been interpreted as a possible disenchantment within the British government towards the whole process of European integration or, more likely, confirming their realisation that French influence within the EU is limited and that France's actions has exposed its limits rather than its strengths. For as William Pfaff in the International Herald Tribune points out - no other European country (apart from Belgium?) is willing to give France leadership. In the rest of his article, he demonstrates how ephemeral France's current role as a global cheerleader actually is, given its lack of power and influence. It's a speculative bubble, boosted by Chirac's 'irrational exuberance', that will burst once the war starts. If I were a broker, I'd mark France's stock down as a bear.

For while the diplomatic battles over Iraq rage, the quiet alignments in the Convention are firming up. The smaller countries intend to meet on the 19th March to confirm their objective of championing the role of the European Commission. Now, some would interpret this move as support for France but the smaller countries view the Commission as a bulwark against larger countries like France or Britain dominating the EU. The Commission itself, though slated as 'French' in some quarters because its stance is closer to the anti-war than the pro-war camp, is infused with transnationalism and will instinctively back the United Nations, another transnational body.

These developments indicate that it is too early to tell whether divisions over Iraq will translate into divisions within Europe itself. Events in the Convention and forthcoming summits should make the consequences of Chirac's and Blair's actions much clearer.


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