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Germany

Iraq Debate Shakes Up EU's Common Foreign Policy

With the leaders of Europe's three most powerful nations at odds over how to deal with Saddam Hussein, analysts say the EU's common foreign and security policy is about to face its first big challenge.

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French President Jacqués Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder don't agree

In 1999, the European Union agreed to establish its own common security and foreign policy – a decisive step toward greater European integration that would, among other things, pave the way for a joint European army. The strategy worked well in dealing with regional crises from the Balkans to the Middle East.

This week, however, with the leaders of Europe's three biggest countries clashing over the best approach in dealing with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, the joint policy faces its first major test.

"The Achilles' heel of EU foreign policy"

"The developments this week suggest that the joint policy hasn't developed as much as has been suggested or people would like," said Daniel Keohane, a senior analyst at the Center for European Reform in London. "The EU has made tremendous progress in the past 10 years, but there's no question that there's discord among the member states. Iraq is the Achilles' heel of EU foreign policy."

Still, it harms the EU not to have a common position, Keohane told DW-WORLD.

"It's frustrating for Europeans that it is taking so long to come to a common position," he said. "People know that there's no way countries can influence the U.S. individually. And the EU's joint security and foreign policy program won't work if the major countries disagree."

Disagreements among Europe's big guns

In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Tony Blair described Hussein as an "international outlaw," and said that "action would follow" if the Iraqi leader refused to allow the return of weapons inspectors.

He also spoke to other EU politicians who have called for greater diplomatic efforts with Hussein. The UN, he said, "must be the way to resolve the threat from Saddam, not avoid it." After meeting with President Bush over the weekend, he reiterated his intent to support a U.S. invasion with the aim of toppling Hussein.

France, perhaps America's biggest critic in Europe, has also showed signs of supporting military intervention.

President Jacques Chirac told "The New York Times" he wanted Hussein out of office and offered a two-part plan for achieving that goal.

Chirac said the United Nations Security Council should consider two resolutions – one issuing a tight deadline for Iraq to allow weapons inspectors back into the country "without any restrictions or preconditions." The other would pave the way for military action if Baghdad fails to comply.

But he didn't specify if France would join a U.N.-backed war, adding that the international community needed solid proof that Baghdad was developing weapons of mass destruction and that France did not have that information.

If Great Britain represents hawkish Europe, and France the cool middle, then Germany has emerged as the EU's dovish voice in the Iraq debate.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who counts his country among America's biggest allies, has said Germany would not participate in a U.S.-led military mission against Iraq under any circumstances, even if done under a UN mandate.

Schröder argues that the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda is far from finished and that any effort to strike against Hussein would lead to the dissolution of the fragile coalition of countries united in the global anti-terrorism effort.

Initially, Schröder said he would forge a "German way" in dealing with the U.S. on the Iraq issue. The historically- charged term angered Washington and other European leaders.

"A deep crisis," but is Schröder just campaigning?

At a session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg last week, Joost Lagendijk, a Dutch member of parliament with the Green Party, described the rift between Europe's biggest players as a "deep crisis in EU foreign policy."

But with Germany less than two weeks away from an election, some tend to think the crisis could have been artificially created by Schröder in order to build up support among left-leaning and pacifist voters.

Keohane said many EU policy analysts "tend to feel Schröder's stance is more an election ploy than a hardened policy." With almost every other European country willing to consider an Iraq invasion, Germany would most likely have to get involved, said Keohane.

"When it comes down to it, if the U.S. pursues Iraq using UN channels, it is more likely to find Europe falling into line and supporting the military action that would follow later," Keohane said. "It would also give them time to build public support."

Schröder, for his part, has denied that Iraq is an election issue and that he would continue to refuse military engagement even if he is re-elected.

Debate could have picked a worse time

The Iraq debate comes at a critical time for Europe, which is on the verge of taking on as many as 10 new Eastern European members next year and is in the midst of NATO enlargement – issues that fuel heated discourse in almost every EU capital.

"When we assess the political risks and possibilities of European involvement in Iraq, we must never lose sight of the grand, long-term strategic aims of Europe," said Marc Houben, a defense policy analyst at the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels. "The grand, historical political project for Europe is its enlargement ... Can any action in Iraq put these projects in jeopardy? We are not sure. But we do know that the EU cannot risk it, because that would constitute an existential danger."

Still, Houben said there could be a silver lining in the contentious debate.

"It often takes a crisis to discover who you are and what you want," said Houben. "Perhaps this is the type of crisis necessary for the EU to discover just what its identity, values, interests and responsibilities really are."