- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2003

‘Old Europe’ vs. new

Donald H. Rumsfeld’s famous description of ‘old Europe’ and new Europe is playing out in Brussels, where hundreds of delegates are drafting a constitution for a European Union that will soon represent about 450 million people.

The U.S. defense secretary made the distinction while describing the debate within Europe between nations led by France and Germany, which opposed the war in Iraq, and smaller nations that supported the United States.

Hannes Farnleitner, head of the Austrian delegation to the constitutional convention, said a similar conflict is under way among more than 200 representatives who hope to approve a draft constitution next month.

On a recent visit to Washington, Mr. Farnleitner told Embassy Row that “medium and small nations” are resisting pressure from larger nations, again led by France, that want to hold on to power in a European Union that will soon represent 25 countries. The European Union now has 15 member states.

“The smaller countries are effective by holding together,” he said.

Former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the convention chairman, is pushing for a full-time EU president to replace the current system, under which each country holds the presidency for six months. He has also proposed reducing the representatives to the European Commission, the European Union’s executive body, to 15 from 20.

Mr. Farnleitner said the smaller nations object to those proposals because the measures would weaken their influence.

Overall, he expressed satisfaction with the work of the convention. The draft constitution would give the European Union control of foreign policy, security issues and defense, while leaving member nations with responsibility for education, culture, health, social affairs, sports and tourism, he said.

“Those issues closest to the people would remain with the member states,” Mr. Farnleitner said. “It will be a totally different Europe.”

He said the new European Union might also consider free-trade agreements with the United States, Russia and Mediterranean nations of North Africa and the Middle East.

One goal of the convention is to draft what he called a “readable constitution” to replace the current 1,400-page constitution.

“So far we are succeeding,” Mr. Farnleitner said. “Fortunately, we don’t have too many lawyers.”

Puppet show, Act II

The dispute about a puppet show at the home of the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela heated up this week, as parliament denounced the American envoy and the State Department said the performance that ridiculed President Hugo Chavez was “inappropriate.”

The parliament released a statement Sunday, criticizing the puppet show as an “unfriendly” act by Ambassador Charles Shapiro.

Meanwhile, Venezuela’s ambassador to the United States is trying to defuse the dispute.

“We’re not looking for any kind of confrontation,” Bernardo Alvarez told reporters in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, where he conferred yesterday with Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel.

“There may be political differences, but what you see is an historic relationship. There is no reason for it to be affected.”

The parliament statement said the legislature “fervently and categorically condemned the regrettable promotion of unfriendly acts … by Ambassador Shapiro.”

The State Department said this week that Mr. Shapiro was just as shocked as the Venezuelan government by the performance at a diplomatic reception to mark press-freedom day. The comedian was invited to perform, but the ambassador did not know he would appear on stage dressed as a popular female broadcaster and carrying a large puppet wearing a red beret, the trademark of the left-wing president.

“The skit presented May 13 by a Venezuelan comedian … caught everyone by surprise,” State Department spokeswoman Lynn Cassel said. “It was inappropriate.”

Refugee agenda

A top U.N. diplomat begins a three-day visit to Washington today to discuss the plight of refugees in Afghanistan, Iraq and West Africa. Ruud Lubbers, the high commissioner for refugees, will meet Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and other administration officials to highlight refugee problems that need greater attention and support, a U.N. spokesman said yesterday.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.


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