At an emergency summit on Monday, European leaders will try to hash out a united front on the touchy issue of Iraq. But with Europe split down the middle, that will be a challenge.
Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder will seek to convince other European leaders their Iraq stance is the right one.
The European Union will hold an emergency summit on Monday in a last-ditch effort to find a common position on the growing Iraq crisis. The EU is hoping to avoid further divisive embarrassments like last week's NATO crisis.
The meeting has been called by Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, who currently holds the rotating EU presidency. Greece wants to find a unified voice across the 15 member states and heal rifts between European capitals over the possibility of U.S.-led strikes in Iraq. At the same time, Greece hopes leaders at the Brussels summit will invoke sharp talk to increase pressure on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to increase cooperation with United Nations weapons inspectors.
But with Germany and France pitted against Britain on the issue of whether to continue inspections or to push for a military solution to the disarmament of Iraq, obtaining a common position could prove to be a Sisyphusian task. While European Union officials hope Monday's informal meeting of government ministers will help thaw the ice, they remain realistic about the final outcome.
"It won't be easy, but we're hoping to find a solution there," a Greek government spokesman told DW-WORLD.
By calling the meeting, EU officials are hoping to avoid another row like the one seen during this week's NATO controversy. France, Germany and Belgium vetoed a request to begin plans for the alliance to provide fellow member Turkey with Patriot anti-missile rockets, AWACS early warning surveillance planes and units to help it defend itself against a biological or chemical weapons attack in the event of a war against neighboring Iraq.
Growing public opposition
A Berlin protest
The governments have to find a solution against the backdrop of widespread public opposition to military strikes in Iraq. Global demonstrations over the weekend saw more than six million people take to the streets in over 600 cities across the world. Some of the biggest demonstrations were in Britain, the U.S.'s outspoken ally in efforts to depose Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. It is estimated that around two million Britons protested across the country. The largest demonstrations took place in the capital, London, and in the Scottish city Glasgow, where Prime Minister Tony Blair made the case for war to his Labour Party on Saturday.
But many Labor Party MPs remain unconvinced by the government's arguments. Back bench Labor MP Clive Betts believes Blair needs to tone down his pro-war rhetoric and concentrate on greater cooperation with the rest of Europe.
"Blair is making a mistake in backing Bush all the way," Betts told DW-WORLD. "Most of us don't believe he (Bush) has the intelligence to see the wider consequences. I agree with the more cautious position taken by governments like Germany and France in Europe."
According to the most-recent polls, around 87 percent of Germans oppose a war in Iraq. This view is reflected by the German government's staunch anti-war position. In the United Kingdom it's a totally different story. Tony Blair's Labor Party government is pushing for authorization to strike Iraq, if necessary without the backing of the United Nations. But Blair is facing increasing criticism at home for his hawkish stance -- only 25 percent of Brits support going to war with Iraq.
If Europe is unable to find a common position on Iraq, it won't be the first time. During 1991's Gulf War, the EU failed to declare a unified policy on Iraq. Months after reunification, the German government provided money, but not troops in the war.
'It's a complicated situation'
Though some members of the European Parliament are optimistic a common voice can be found, others are more skeptical. Timothy Kirkhope, a British member of parliament who is also a member of the EU's Constitutional Convention, says: "We need to find a common stand across Europe on Iraq, but it's a very complicated situation with lots of different positions, so I don't know if we'll find an answer."
France, like Britain, has the right to use the veto in the Security Council. But the French have positioned themselves alongside Germany's anti-war stance. This has put them in direct opposition to the hawkish position of the British government. There are real fears that France's stance, if backed up by other veto wielding states Russia and China, will not only split European Union down the middle, but also the United Nations.
The omens for the meeting haven't boded well from the start. There were disagreements over the decision to not let European Union accession states, mostly from formerly communist Eastern Europe, attend the conference. France, Germany and Belgium were worried that the inclusion of the 13 future EU states -- many of which have signed on to the so-called "Group of 8" European countries supporting Washington's hawkish policy -- would tip the meeting toward a pro-war outcome.
German press reports stated that German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder held a telephone conversation with British Prime Minister Blair on Friday to try and resolve some of the outstanding issues before the meeting. Still, the German government reiterated its stance that it would not participate in any war against Iraq on Friday at the United Nations.
Along with the French government, the Germans insisted weapons inspectors needed more time in Iraq. German sources remain optimistic, but in reality, the chances of any significant common ground being reached from Monday's meeting look slim.