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Europe

Mini EU Defense Summit Sparks Controversy

German papers are divided over the merits of the Brussels mini-summit that offered proposals for joint EU security and defense policies. They also turn their attention to the possibilities for peace in the Middle East.

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According to the Financial Times Deutschland, the mini-summit held in Brussels by Germany, France, Belgium and Luxembourg on Tuesday was a mistake right from the start. It brought together precisely those countries that protested most noisily against the war on Iraq -- surely this will give the British and Americans the impression that yesterday's anti-war campaigners are trying to present themselves as the core of tomorrow's Europe. The paper fears that the four countries are consciously risking the division of both NATO and the European Union.

The Südkurier in Constance takes a similar view. You're not going to resolve Europe's identity crisis with exclusive events like this, it says, adding that Europe needs more unity, not more declarations of political intent.

But in Koblenz, the Rhein-Zeitung, like most other German papers, disagrees. The four-way initiative is not anti-American, it writes, nor does it contradict the vision of European integration. Europe doesn't need 25 armies, and it certainly can't afford them. The point, according to the paper, is to find a sensible way of merging these various capacities. It's not about creating a second military superpower alongside the United States or NATO. But the editorial does warn that the Brussels Four must urgently shed their reputation as an elite anti-American club.

The Frankfurter Rundschau even sees the summit as the start of a new era in Europe defense policy. This wasn't a stubborn anti-war coalition seeking justification for itself, it writes. This was a group of decisive integrationists, who, as a result of the American attitude to both the war in Iraq and to the United Nations, have realized that the much-talked-about European security and defense force must now finally take shape.

If Europe wants to have any influence in questions of war and peace, it has to become stronger, both politically and militarily, writes the Kölnische Rundschau. And while the paper doesn't believe Europe will take a position against the United States, it says it could well act as a counterweight to the extensive power of individual U.S. governments.

Several dailies also turn their attention to the Middle East, and the approval of the new Palestinian cabinet. The hatred that divides Israelis and Palestinians still runs deep, writes the Leipziger Volkszeitung, but with the new government under Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas there is at least a faint indication that peace might be given another chance.

The Thüringer Allgemeine is less optimistic. Mahmoud Abbas faces so many problems he doesn't know where to begin, it says, and we can only speculate on his chances of success.

The Berliner Kurier comments that if there's any positive side at all to the Iraq war, it's the hope of reviving the Middle East peace talks. The White House has announced its intention to reshape the Middle East, it says, and this can't be done without Syria. Syria has now said it is prepared to hold unconditional talks with Israel, which the Berlin paper describes as a small miracle -- but it says it's also a small miracle that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell threw his travel plans to the winds and put Syria at the top of his list.