European papers on Thursday looked at the summit meeting in Berlin between the leaders of France, Germany and Britain and their call for urgent EU economic reforms and the appointment of a powerful new commissioner.
The German daily Die Welt carried a front page picture of the leaders of France, Germany and Britain, capturing an ebullient Jacques Chirac, his mouth wide open in discourse, a pensive Gerhard Schröder and a smiling Tony Blair. "We are not an EU directorate," read the photograph's caption, a reference to the criticism of the summit lodged by some of the smaller EU nations who were not in Berlin and feel they are being left out of decision-making. On its opinion page, Die Welt said that with Tony Blair's help, Europe could improve its relations with the United States, which are by no means as stable as many a politician would have us believe. Germany would also profit, the paper believes.
With Blair's assistance, Chancellor Schröder could disengage himself from Chirac's embrace in which he has been locked since the Iraq war. The Guardian in London evidently sees little chance of this happening. "My pact is with Germany, Chirac tells Blair" is how the paper headlines its story on the Berlin summit. On its comment page, the Guardian said this was not the start of a directorate. It was very noticeable at the press conference that Chirac was effusive in his thanks to Schröder and praise for the Franco-German special relationship, while not mentioning Blair or Britain once.
The French paper Le Figaro believes the countries that attacked this summit now know that they were aiming at the wrong target. If an "EU directorate" exists, the paper said, then it consists - as always - of France and Germany. The big reunion which Chirac and Schröder celebrated with Tony Blair was purely tactical, according to the paper. Ahead of important elections on the other side of the Atlantic, Paris and Berlin are only embracing Britain so they can keep America at bay more effectively.
In a lead article entitled "The bitter lesson of Iraq" Italy's La Reppubblica said that without France and Germany, Europe would not exist. But if it tries to ignore London, it gets nowhere. Blair has paid dearly for unilaterally adopting the position of the Bush administration. Schröder and Chirac were also forced to realize to their cost that the Atlantic question can still divide and paralyze Europe. The Berlin summit was born out of recognition of this simple truth.
The Austrian paper Der Standard observed that the three countries at the Berlin summit represent the main trends within the EU. London stands for the euroskepticism espoused by northern European countries and those who favor market liberalization. France has much in common with the southern European states and not just in agriculture policy. Germany was once the advocate of deeper European integration and it is still a firm supporter of the EU constitution. If these three countries can agree on a common position, then they must have been able to reconcile their differences in a manner which others could emulate.