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Europe

European Press Review: Powerful Friends

Many editorials in Thursday’s European papers focused on the United States decision over reconstruction contracts in Iraq. Others chose to comment on the divisions over the draft constitution for the European Union.

Concerning the revelation that the Pentagon intended to exclude countries that opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq, London’s Financial Times described the decision as impolitic. The U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary and architect of the Iraq war strategy Paul Wolfowitz, the paper wrote, says limiting competition on these contracts is necessary to protect the security interests of the United States. However, the Financial Times questioned his justification, calling it spurious reasoning for a straightforward act of retaliation against countries that argued that war on Iraq would add to the collective insecurity by proliferating Islamist terrorism.

Challenging Wolfowitz’s assertion that competition for contracts would cause a breach in security, Spain’s El Mundo asked how an order by a Canadian firm could become a dangerous threat to US soldiers. The paper answered its own question, saying that such a statement was a mere smokescreen for the real reason which was that the Bush administration only wants to divide the Iraqi cake between its friends.

Le Figaro in France placed the decision firmly at the door of the Pentagon, saying that the Americans know that the only possibility of rebuilding Iraq is through the help of a number of large nations -- a reality understood by State Secretary Colin Powell and the U.S. administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer. However, the paper expressed sorrow that this fact had been completely lost on Wolfowitz and his Pentagon colleagues.

Switzerland’s Basel Zeitung believed that the actual scandal has little to do with the use of security measures as an obvious excuse to exclude opposing nations but more to do with the fact that the Bush administration is trying to protect its own interests.

In Austria, Der Standard criticized the U.S. pretense in thinking that its decision would still promote free trade and competition. The paper explained in its editorial that the Pentagon’s concept of free trade and competition is one where free trade and competition is only open to countries that supported the U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.

Elsewhere, the European press turned its attention to the issue of the European Union Summit to be held on Friday and the divisions over the Franco-German proposal for a draft constitution. De Volksrant in the Netherlands commented that Germany and France were using their power not in the interest of the European Union but to ensure that their national interests are not controlled by Brussels. The Dutch paper added that this was evident in the crisis over the EU’s stability pact and that it is happening now with the constitution. It argued that the Franco-German block is becoming an irritation to the EU member countries.

The Jyllands Posten in Denmark gave a rather dim view of the complicated negotiations ahead by explaining that if the Italian Presidency tried to placate opposing countries with concessions to ensure successful passage of the draft constitution, agreement on the more difficult issue of the voting rights of EU countries would still have to be reached.