Tuesday, September 14, 2004

THE THREE Musketeers, or the Three Amigos, or whatever.

French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder have visited their new ally in Spain, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who declared the summit showed that "the old Europe is like new."

Zapatero's comments seemed aimed at blunting U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's description of an "old Europe" that opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
Ooooo, quick, Rummy, duck for cover!

But in many ways symbolism appeared to be more important than substance on Monday night.

[...] Aides of the three leaders stressed that Monday's get-together did not herald a formal or regular format for talks. All three governments reject the notion of a Franco-German-Spanish "axis," the aides said.

And despite Monday's show of unity, there is plenty of scope for disagreement in the months ahead. As EU members are embarking on discussions over the Union's next budget round from 2007 to 2013, the three countries' interests diverge.

Germany and France are facing ballooning budget deficits at home and are keen to cut or at least freeze the EU's annual E100 billion, or $120 billion, outlays.

Spain, the main recipient of subsidies for regional development, is eager to retain money that risks an increasing flow to the new East European member states.
In any case, it's at least debatable whether aligning with the German leader, who lately hasn't been in an election which he hasn't lost and whose own electoral future looks more and more grim, and a French leader who is escaping jail only because his presidential office shields him from criminal charges for corruption is a wise move. Looking at the press conference the three amigos held during the summit, one could not avoid thinking that the two elders wanted to make the juvenile Zapatero feel like he was one of the grownups, with the intention of using him for their own advantage. For example, encouraging him knowing that he will say the wildest things which allows them to appear as sensible statesmen in comparison, so that they can try to mend relationships with the US. Which will happen eventually, and then Zapatero, and all of us Spaniards, will be left hangin'. In any case, I can't imagine, well, actually I can imagine what will happen if Chirac and Shroeder end up loosing their next elections and are replaced by more realistic politicians keen to mend things with the US.

For the moment, the Spanish press is reporting (no link in English, sorry) that the US has cancelled a tentative multi-million agreement in which the VI US Fleet, based in the Mediterranean, were to be maintained by a Spanish shipyard, one that was in danger of being closed for lack of orders and in dire financial straits because it had to return a huge subsidy from Aznar's government, against EU policies. Zapatero rushed last Sunday to assure its workers, which are in strike and rioting, that he would 'save' it with another huge subsidy. How easy it is to save companies with somebody else's money, isn't it?

UPDATE. Juan Hervada comments, and he's not happy.

[Zapatero] said he had chosen to invite France and Germany since they were, in his opinion, the European Union's most powerful members.
I bet Blair is weeping right now in some corner of No. 10.

UPDATE III. V-Man comments, too.