- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2004

PARIS — The European Union has not emerged stronger from this week’s tripartite summit in Berlin and diplomats forecast serious conflicts within the group.

Opposition to the self-imposed EU leadership by France, Germany and Britain is likely to grow, particularly among the 10 new members set to join on May 1.

Above all, many European analysts say the fact that Britain joined the “European locomotive” demonstrated the failure of the Franco-German “axis” to achieve satisfactory results.

According to French diplomatic sources, France and Germany, which for years have tried to “pull” the European Union, had no adequate means to achieve greater prosperity and make the bloc “a serious force in the world.”

“The French-German axis no longer has the weight to conserve its European role,” wrote the left-wing French daily Liberation.

Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung commented: “It can no longer be accepted that Paris and Berlin alone will make plans for shaping Europe.”

With Britain as a partner in this new power center, the triumvirate represents about 50 percent of the bloc’s gross domestic product.

For the time being, to most analysts, the new partnership known as “the Big Three” is likely to add to the problems faced by the European Union of 15. It soon will grow to 25 members.

The bloc has been thwarted in its search for an acceptable constitution and divided on plans to admit another group of new members in the future that would include Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania.

So far the union has been unable to speak with one voice on any major international issue, such as Iraq. Significantly, the France-Germany alliance that was bitterly opposed to the U.S.-led intervention in Iraq has been unable to rally other EU members to its opinion.

With British Prime Minister Tony Blair — a firm ally of Washington — now joining French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, prospects for any common EU stand on Iraq have changed considerably.

Italy and Spain now lead what has become known in European editorials as “the revolt of the neglected.”

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi predicted that “a big mess” would emerge from the self-appointed three-power “directorate.” His foreign minister, Franco Frattini, said, “We want a Europe which moves forward for the benefit of all — not triumvirates which can only damage Europe’s construction.”

“They cannot stifle us,” vowed Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio.

Their comments followed “a letter of six” sent to the EU presidency by Italy, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands as well as by Poland and Estonia, two candidate members, protesting the new triumvirate.

France and Germany firmly denied any intention of being more than an alliance of powers capable of increasing Europe’s competitiveness and influence in the world. “We’re not trying to dominate anyone,” Mr. Schroeder said.

For the 10 prospective members, France and Germany are hardly considered examples to follow: Both have been accused by the European Commission of violation of its rules and exceeding the allowed public debt.

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