European Union leaders hunkered down in Barcelona for some serious talk on international politics and military affairs – not just trade, trade and more trade.
EU leaders make like a happy family at the Congress Palace in Spain's Catalan capital
The EU’s 15 countries find themselves eager to coordinate political and defence policy in a new decade that’s proved challenging from the start, and this was high on the agenda in Barcelona for leaders meeting in their European Council.
Both the Balkans and Iraq, trouble spots for which there has been no easy solution, featured prominently in discussions.
Following the 1990s when European action even within the EU’s own regional neighbourhood was too slow for many members’ liking, the union aims to act more surely from now on.
News from the Balkans may help them out. News from Baghdad, Washington and Ankara may not.
First on the agenda – or at least the publicised agenda – was Europe’s perennial trouble-spot, the Balkans.
The Barecelona summit got underway shortly after the two remaining republics in federal Yugoslavia announced plans to reconstitute themselves as a new country called "Serbia and Montenegro".
EU leaders hailed the decision, having met Friday with the Yugoslav and Montenegran presidents.
The new union, the EU leaders planned to say in a draft statement Saturday, is "a decisive element in the realisation of the European perspective of Serbia and Montenegro and an important contribution towards the stability of the region," Reuters reported.
Montenegro had long been threatening to break with Serbia in favour of independence – a move that many feared would trigger still further break-away tendencies in a former Yugoslav region that already shattered into numerous countries during the wars of the last decade. What was simply Yugoslavia under the dictator Tito during the Communist era is now Serbia and Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia and the fledglingly autonomous and contested region of Serbia that sparked another war in 1999, Kosovo.
The Iraq mess
Through Saturday afternoon, the leaders in Barcelona were quieter about their intentions regarding Iraq, which remains a sore point with some European countries.
Perceived US intentions to attack Iraq as part of its ongoing "war on terror" have rubbed many the wrong way.
France, for one, has cautiously reopened relations with Iraq since the Gulf War over a decade ago, but the United States and Britain have continued to impose "no-fly zones" over the country and bomb sporadically, reportedly to counteract the alleged production of weapons of mass destruction.
EU leaders’ discussions came in the shadow of an announcement made Friday by Turkey, not an EU member but a crucial regional ally neighbouring both the EU and Iraq. Turkey came out firmly against any potential attack, doubting the benefits politically and economically.
"Since the Gulf War, Iraq has been under strict control," said Turkish Prime Minsiter Bulent Ecevit. "It is under constant surveillance, so it is not in a position anymore to inflict any harm on its neighbours or even against its people."
US President George W. Bush, who has famously branded Saddam Hussein’s Iraq part of an "axis of evil" with North Korea and Iran, would surely disagree.
But the EU, a key ally in the US-led war in Afghanistan and potentially elsewhere, appeared Saturday to be selecting its words – or silence – very carefully.