Germany’s conservative opposition is increasing pressure on Chancellor Gerhard Schröder not to attend an upcoming summit on defense policy, saying it could widen divisions in the European Union caused by the war in Iraq.
Some German politicians want to keep Germany's military tightly tied to NATO.
Germany, France, Belgium and Luxembourg – all opposed to the U.S.-led war in Iraq – are scheduled to meet on April 29 in Brussels to discuss defense integration and cooperation.
But even before the summit gets underway, it has come under criticism both in Germany and abroad for alienating those EU countries that supported the war and potentially jeopardizing Europe’s commitment to NATO.
Despite attempts to open the summit up to other EU members, nations that backed Washington during the war, namely Britain, Spain and Italy, remain highly skeptical of the summit's motives. The four-nation meet has been cast in an anti-war light ever since Belgium’s Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt suggested it shortly after the United States invaded Iraq in March.
Merkel against summit
Angela Merkel, leader of Germany’s opposition Christian Democrats (CDU), renewed her party’s call to boycott the summit after meeting other European conservative leaders in Paris on Wednesday. She reiterated her fear that a new defense grouping could be used to decouple Europe from NATO and the transatlantic alliance with the United States.
Angela Merkel, head of the Christian Democrats.
“In my opinion it’s important, especially considering the limited defense budget that we have in Germany, to strengthen NATO and European security policy rather than just part of NATO. We shouldn’t forge new alliances,” said Merkel.
Germany’s small liberal Free Democrats (FDP) party has recently joined the CDU in rejecting the four-way summit. “It would be better if we opted against a separate meeting and dealt with the core issue all together at the next European Union summit,” said the FDP’s foreign policy expert Wolfgang Gerhard.
The 15-member European Union decided to create its own military arm at the Helsinki Summit in 1999, after years of wrangling over a joint security and defense policy. Ideas on how to develop a EU force range from pooling equipment to more far-reaching initiatives, such as a collective defense clause. The EU launched its first military operation last month after taking over NATO's small peacekeeping mission in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.
The increasing criticism by the CDU and the FDP has forced Germany’s center-left government of Social Democrats and Greens to defend the Brussels summit as an important contribution toward strengthening Europe’s common defense policy.
The debate comes at an inopportune time for Berlin, which has begun to signal that it would like to repair strained ties with Washington after opposing the war in Iraq.
That has led Berlin to stake out a position as an intermediary between Brussels and Paris, which have proposed forming a core of states to press ahead with defense integration, and London, Madrid and Rome, which believe any EU initiative should merely complement instead of replace NATO. “It’s not about circumventing NATO. The initiative will be part of a broad European dialogue,” the Social Democrats’ foreign policy spokesman Gert Weisskirchen told the German news agency DPA.