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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

The EU Constitutional Crisis and Its Impact on Israel

Filed under: Europe and Israel
Publication: Jerusalem Viewpoints

No. 532     24 Sivan 5765 / 1 July 2005

The rejection of the proposed European Union constitution in France and the Netherlands has weakened Europe’s overall status and may influence Europe’s role in the Middle East. While past EU policies have been heavily biased against Israel, as it enters a period of disarray, EU policies may become structurally less threatening to Israel.

For many years, France has been the driving force behind anti-Israel political attitudes in the EU. Former Israeli UN ambassador Yehuda Blum noted, “The French at the UN were the leaders of every anti-Israel initiative originating in Europe throughout. Theirs was a totally unbalanced position. We counted them in the Arab camp.

Israel’s bilateral political relations with individual EU members are often much more positive than with the European Union. The more the EU becomes the final arbiter of European foreign policy, the more these positive trends are put at risk. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw clarified British policy ruling out diplomatic contacts with Hamas on 7 June 2005. Less than two weeks later, the EU notified the U.S. of a policy that permits European diplomats, below the ambassadorial level, to maintain contacts with Hamas members seeking election to the Palestinian parliament. The EU position had again watered down the British one.

France’s overall frustration about its reduced European role may well make it even more biased in its Middle East policies. While confronting France on more important issues, other EU members may, as a payoff, still be willing to go along with France’s leadership in EU Middle East policy, which is a secondary matter for most EU members.

Since the negative votes in the referenda on the constitution, the voices against Turkey becoming a full member of the EU have become louder and more frequent. Turkey’s membership in the EU is of relevance to Israel inter alia because it would require further steps toward democratization in Turkey, thus moving the country closer to Europe and farther away from the Islamic world.

A Weakened Europe

In May and June 2005, 55 percent of French voters and 62 percent of Dutch voters rejected the proposed European Union constitution. This rejection by the population in two of its founding members has caused a crisis in the EU that has weakened Europe’s overall status. This event may also influence Europe’s role in the Middle East conflict.

EU policies have been heavily biased against Israel. Bernard Lewis, a leading scholar of the Middle East, quipped in Berlin during 2002 that if the Palestinians once looked to Nazi Germany and then the Soviet Union as their main global sponsors, now they look to the European Union.1 The EU constitutional crisis might change this trend. As it enters a period of disarray, EU policies may become structurally less threatening to Israel.

The lack of support for the EU Constitution in France and the Netherlands marks a serious blow to the ideology of “Europeanism” – the belief that Europe’s experiment with multilateral governance is a success story to be spread with “evangelic zeal” to other areas of the world.2 Ambassador Giancarlo Chevallard, the former head of the EU Commission office in Israel, remarked that while the EU was developed to make the principles of national sovereignty, self-reliance, and the use of military power obsolete, Israel has had to face continuous external threats that require it to reject the core assumptions of the new European statecraft.3 But if in the period ahead Europeans express increasing self-doubt about the success of their multilateral experiment and put the brakes on more intensified political integration, then the Israeli-European clash may gain a needed respite.

A Complex and Tense Relationship

The relationship between Israel and Europe is complex, tense, and historically loaded. European-Israeli relations in such areas as trade, science, culture, and sport have continued to expand. On the other hand, the political attitude of Europe toward Israel has degraded over recent decades, particularly in the aftermath of the 1973 Arab oil embargo against the West, when no European state, except Portugal, would give the U.S. landing rights to re-supply Israel during the Yom Kippur War.

Lately, the European political attitude expresses itself mainly in a declaratory way. The EU makes frequent unbalanced and critical statements regarding Israel’s actions, and there are fears in Israel that in the longer term this political criticism will impact negatively on relations in other fields as well.4

Jeffrey Gedmin, the American director of the Aspen Institute in Berlin, notes that Europe “refuses to think maturely and strategically about how to produce a genuine peace in the Middle East. The typical European approach to Israel is to wait until Israel reacts to an attack and then criticize it….One would expect the Europeans to say at least once, ‘This is what we would do. Our proposal is credible for a number of sound reasons. We will support it in the following ways. If you accept it and it fails, we will protect you by taking a number of major actions.’ On that front, however, the Europeans are totally absent.”5

Beyond Politics: Psychological Factors

Several observers see psychological issues as playing a role in Europe’s biased attitude toward Israel. University of Michigan political scientist Andrei Markovits says, “Europe has a major unresolved relationship with its past.” In his view, Europeans wish to absolve themselves from remorse and shame for their behavior during the Holocaust and want to “experience a sense of liberation” from their guilt. Markovits adds, “No other vaguely comparable conflict has attained in Europe anywhere near the shrillness and acuity as has the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; not the mass murders in Chechnya, not the ones in the many post-Yugoslav wars, and not the murders of Muslims at the hands of Serbs and Croats.”6

Both Gedmin and Markovits also link the many negative attitudes of European elites and others toward Israel to anti-Americanism. It is not surprising that Belgian courts not only considered trying Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for “war crimes,” but also top U.S. officials. Since Israel is considered close to the United States, the tension between Europe and the U.S. negatively influences European attitudes toward Israel.

Low Point at the United Nations

The lowest point of Europe’s attitude toward Israel expresses itself in its positions at the United Nations where Europe’s voting record shows a long-standing anti-Israel bias. This manifests itself at the UN General Assembly in numerous anti-Israel resolutions, most of which are supported by all EU members.

Dore Gold, Israel’s former ambassador to the UN (1997-1999), has exposed the myth that European support for anti-Israel resolutions disappeared after the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo agreements. “The first Oslo Agreement was signed on 13 September 1993. Within three months and one day from that signing on 14 December 1993, the UN General Assembly began to adopt its usual series of anti-Israel resolutions.”7 Most of these were supported by all EU countries.

A similar European attitude existed concerning emergency special sessions of the General Assembly. Gold notes, for instance, that such a session was convened in July 1997 to deal with Israeli construction at Har Homa, a barren hill in eastern Jerusalem. Almost all UN emergency special sessions have been devoted to the Middle East and Israel, while there were none when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan or Czechoslovakia, Vietnam attacked Cambodia, Turkey assailed Cyprus, India invaded Pakistan, and Morocco entered the Western Sahara.

France, the Driving Anti-Israel Force

For many years, France has been the driving force behind anti-Israel political attitudes in the EU. Until the 1967 Six-Day War, France supported Israel. Then it made a sharp political turn against Israel. Shortly thereafter, French President Charles De Gaulle reintroduced anti-Semitism at the highest levels of post-Holocaust mainstream European democratic society when he called the Jews “an elitist and domineering people.” France was also the main promoter of the 1980 Venice Declaration in which the EU recognized the PLO, which still called officially for Israel’s destruction.8

Former Israeli UN ambassador Yehuda Blum (1978-1984) described the French anti-Israel position at the United Nations: “At the UN the French positions during my ambassadorship were the worst among Europeans. To give one example, in 1982, after the start of the Lebanon campaign, there was an American initiative to bring about a cessation of hostilities. A counter proposal which never materialized was a joint venture of the Egyptians and the French. The French at the UN were the leaders of every anti-Israel initiative originating in Europe throughout. Theirs was a totally unbalanced position. We counted them in the Arab camp.”9

Gold adds: “The European collective is frequently neutral on issues at the UN. Then, often in meetings of EU diplomats, the French ambassador tries to break the consensus and move the entire group in an anti-Israel direction. Rather than pressure France, the Europeans tend to be dragged along with its position. Therefore, France plays a particularly negative role in the formation of an anti-Israel European position at the UN.”10 Thus, even individual European states which are positively predisposed to Israel are pulled toward a common anti-Israel position in the drive to hammer out an EU consensus on the Middle East.

France’s political leaders in recent decades often have tried to project the image that the country is a major international power. For De Gaulle this was a central element of policy. As British political analyst David Pryce-Jones put it:

“France today lacks the resources and the influence either to supplant the United States or to enlist the Arab world in its camp, to create a Palestinian state, or to dismantle Israel. Moreover, its nuisance value has rebounded on itself. Its chosen instruments, Saddam Hussein and Arafat, both proved untrustworthy: support for the former was evidently related to French profiteering from the UN oil-for-food scam, which dwarfed the corruption even of the Mitterrand era, and support for the latter had roots in obscure deals, protection rackets, and emotional anti-Americanism.”

In the Middle East, France has forfeited whatever leverage it might once have enjoyed. At home, meanwhile, it has had to come to terms with a growing Arab underclass, one whose resentments and tendencies to violence have been whipped up in no small part by the inflexible hostility displayed by the French state to Jewish self-determination.11

Israeli Bilateral Relations Versus Relations with the EU

Israel’s bilateral political relations with individual EU members are often much more positive than with the European Union. Relations with the Italian Berlusconi government are warm. Those with current German, British, and Dutch governments are also good. Up until the mid-1990s, some EU countries even broke the European consensus during UN votes. More recently, relations with Belgium have improved. The more the EU becomes the final arbiter of European foreign policy, the more these positive trends are put at risk.

In Great Britain, it was the Labour government of Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1967 that instructed its ambassador to the UN, Lord Caradon, to draft the well-known withdrawal clause of Security Council Resolution 242 to call on Israel to withdraw “from territories” and not “all the territories” captured by Israeli forces in the Six-Day War. The idea was to provide Israel with new “secure and recognized boundaries” to replace the previous armistice lines.

Yet in November 1973, Britain joined with the European Economic Community (the EU’s precursor) in issuing a joint resolution in Brussels that called on Israel to withdraw fully to the old armistice lines from which it was attacked in 1967, thereby contradicting the British position at the UN and undermining Resolution 242.12 In short, Britain when alone was helpful to Israel, but in the context of a wider European community, which it formally joined in January 1973, its position shifted toward the Arab side.

More recently, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw clarified British policy ruling out diplomatic contacts with Hamas on 7 June 2005, saying: “We are not dealing with Hamas leadership and won’t deal with them until they have done two fundamental things, which is dropped their charter committing themselves to the destruction of Israel and given up violence as a legitimate tool.”13 Less than two weeks later, the EU notified the U.S. of a policy that permits European diplomats, below the ambassadorial level, to maintain contacts with Hamas members seeking election to the Palestinian parliament.14 The EU position had again watered down the British one.

In a recent private meeting with Dutch parliamentarians of the Christian CDA – the leading government party – one of them explained to this author, who called Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot’s statements against Israel discriminatory, that these reflected the fact that the Netherlands was serving at the time as president of the European Union, on whose behalf Bot spoke.

However, this difference between bilateral and EU relations with Israel might change gradually in the future as a result of the entry of eight new Eastern European members of the European Union in 2004. Mark Sofer, the deputy director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry responsible for Central Europe and Eurasia, believes that countries in the old EU which are relatively friendly toward Israel will receive backing from these new entrants.15

Preventing Further Deterioration

Against this background, the European Union’s crisis around the constitution may slow any further deterioration in EU statements toward Israel. Had the constitution been adopted, there would have been a single European president and foreign minister who would have spoken on behalf of the EU, replacing the somewhat diverse and less powerful voices of individual countries’ foreign ministers who succeed each other as spokesman of the EU every six months in a rotating presidency.

The constitutional crisis has weakened the EU’s image and credibility, exposing it as a weakening institution of states with diverging interests. It will be easier for Israel to expose Europe’s political hypocrisy against the background of its impotence resulting from lack of coherence. That will further enhance Israel’s argument that those who are unable to be guarantors of peace in the Middle East should not try to impose their bias on attempts to resolve the conflict. While the Bush administration agreed in 2003 to coordinate its policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the EU (as well as with the UN and Russia) through “the quartet,” the U.S. will have a reduced need to take hard-line European positions into account that are hostile to Israel. Of course, the U.S. will still consult with bilateral European partners like the UK.

Even Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, is making pessimistic noises. He noted: “The nationalistic rhetoric is self-defeating. It is impossible. It is irrational to come to Brussels and to go back to respective capitals saying every time, ‘we have won,’ as if it was a kind of boxing championship. People like that are destroying the very idea of Europe. That is my duty to say that.”16 Barroso was also quoted as saying that the EU would not have a constitution in the coming years.17

Barroso, in turn, was the subject of a caustic attack in the Financial Times by Jim Dougal, the former head of the European Commission’s representation in London, who said that the president of the Commission was “hardly the first choice” and “the lowest common denominator” on which the member states could agree. Dougal said he had been hired to improve the British public’s understanding on how the EU worked, but had realized quickly that this was an impossible job. He characterized the Commission’s working, saying, “Its modus operandi displays an outrageous lack of common sense.”18

France’s Reduced Status

The French-German axis which has been leading the European Union for many decades had already been weakened by substantial economic problems. Unemployment is around ten percent in both countries. (In Germany this occurs at a time more and more forces are trying to sanitize its Nazi past.19) The negative French vote on the EU constitution has introduced tensions in the axis itself. In view of the rejection of the constitution, progress in the EU toward greater integration will now require new German-French initiatives.

Furthermore, it is likely that in the next German elections, probably to be held in autumn 2005, the Christian Democrats (CDU) will replace the Socialists as the leading government party. The CDU is against Turkey’s full membership in the EU and thus diametrically opposed to the declared French position before the referendum. Angela Merkel, the CDU candidate for the chancellorship, seems inclined to give prevalence to German interests over European ones. She sees economic growth as a priority and has little sympathy for the Brussels bureaucracy.

In the first days after the referendum’s failure, the new French government tried, in vain, to give the impression that the country’s European status had not suffered. The new prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, declared: “France, a founding member, will maintain its place in the EU. It will keep its commitments. It will continue to push the European adventure ahead.”20 However, Villepin is identified closely with Chirac. He is also much disliked in the United States as he embodied French opposition to the Iraq war. Historian Paul Johnson remarked that de Villepin is best noted “for his view that Napoleon should have won the Battle of Waterloo, and continued to rule Europe.”21

Both Chirac and de Villepin have already started to allude that further enlargement of the EU should be carefully evaluated. While not explicitly mentioning Turkey’s admission into the EU, it was clear that the French government was considering back-tracking on this issue since it is domestically unpopular.22 The chairman of Chirac’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who sees himself as the party’s candidate in the 2007 presidential elections, said that beyond Bulgaria and Romania, no new members should be admitted to the EU until its institutions have been renewed.”23 Elsewhere in Europe, leading politicians also realize that enlargement fatigue is substantial among the EU population.

In another sign of change or disarray in French policy, De Villepin invited French political leaders for a consultation on Europe’s perspectives after the referendum. In addition to inviting the parties represented in parliament, the Trotskyite Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire (LCR) and the right-wing Front National (FN) were also invited. The LCR refused to attend what it called a “media operation,” which is a “joke,” while the FN accepted the invitation which it considered as a symbol of its legitimization. The FN saw it as an occasion to tell the prime minister that due to the outcome of the referendum, Chirac was no longer a legitimate president and should resign. When the FN’s invitation became known, Francois Hollande, leader of the main opposition Socialist party, told the prime minister that he would not attend.24

France’s status as a leader of the EU has been dented, though a substantial part of the French “no” vote was not against Europe itself but in favor of a different, i.e., more protectionist, more welfare-state-minded EU. Other French pro-Europeans voted against the constitution to express their dissatisfaction with the French government’s domestic functioning. Those who rejected the constitution out of nationalist considerations were a minority, albeit a substantial one.

The extent of damage to Chirac’s domestic position was seen in a TNS-Sofres poll a few days after the referendum. Only 24 percent had confidence in him to resolve France’s current problems, while 74 percent considered him unable to do so, a fall of eight percent in one month.25 A few weeks later his party rival Sarkozy said: “Nobody speaks anymore about a candidacy of Chirac [in the next presidential elections]. He can no longer be considered an adversary.”26

The Netherlands

The Dutch “no” vote received far less attention than the French rejection of the European constitution. Frans Weisglas, chairman of the Second Chamber, the main house of the Dutch parliament, explained that the Dutch felt that through the EU they were losing control of their lives. He added: “They are afraid of Brussels” because too many decisions were taken there for their taste. “They are not against Europe. But it is going too far, too fast, and it is too complex.”27

Dutch political analyst Maurice de Hond said some Dutch were still angry that the euro had become Europe’s currency and they voted in 2005 in response. CNN European political editor Robin Oakley noted that the referendum had to be seen against the background of unemployment in the Netherlands, which had risen from three to seven percent over the past three years.28

The Dutch government is still evaluating whether the strong vote in that country against the EU has strengthened or weakened its hand.29 The country is the largest per capita contributor to the EU budget and, after the referendum, government parties and the major Labor opposition insisted that a substantial reduction of Dutch financial support for the EU should be negotiated.30

The Failed EU Summit

All this comes at a time when many EU members have substantial disagreements with France. Great Britain opposes France on EU budget policies, wishing to substantially reduce EU agricultural subsidies which it considers support for a largely obsolete sector. This found expression at the failed EU summit in Brussels on 16-17 June 2005.

The Observer quoted an anonymous British participant, “a veteran of past summits,” who said “he had never seen one so ugly.”31 Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot said that he had never heard such extreme language as was used this time in Brussels. He quoted German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder who accused the Dutch of “egoism,” and Chirac who had spoken in a closed meeting about countries that were “stuffed gluttons.” Bot added that after hearing this talk, those addressed were not inclined to make concessions.32

The Guardian summarized the meeting, saying that it collapsed “among some of the most bitter recriminations ever seen between European leaders, with Jacques Chirac denouncing the British position as pathetic and tragic, and Tony Blair describing the French defense of agricultural subsidies as bizarre.”33

Whether this is an indication that the UK is determined to reduce France’s role in the EU remains to be seen. However, the verbal sniping continued after the summit. Chirac called the French vision one of a “social” Europe and that of the “intransigent” socialist Blair one of a “liberal” Europe.34 Blair said that the UK did not want an EU budget “which continues to spend seven times more for agriculture than for research and development, science, technology, training, and innovation together.” Blair added, “we have to invest in innovation and training and not subsidize every cow by two euro a day.”35

Guardian commentator Timothy Garton Ash wrote: “To respond to the greatest crisis of popular confidence in the European project for 50 years by having a Franco-British row over money is like a couple reacting to the complete trashing of their house in a flash flood by bickering over who does the ironing.”36

In the beginning of July, at a meeting between Putin, Schroeder, and Chirac in Kaliningrad, journalists overheard Chirac joking about the British: “The only thing they have done for European agriculture is the mad cow,” and “how can one have confidence in people who have such a bad cuisine?…After Finland it’s the country where one eats worst.”37

With this Chirac managed to open up another unnecessary front, with British chefs and food experts. The well-known food critic Egon Ronay said about him: “A man full of bile is not fit to pronounce on food.”38

The New Element in This Crisis

The EU has survived many crises. The new element is that this crisis is not just between member governments but also between the EU and part of its population. More consultation with the electorate through referendums is likely in the future and no one can predict the consequences.

The EU has to decide whether it wants to be a free trade zone or an area of political and economic integration. It has to determine where Europe’s borders should lie – in Europe or in Asia. It also has to decide where it wants to put most of its financial resources.

The fact that a majority of France’s youngest voters opposed the EU constitution may be indicative of future problems. A Harris poll showed that seven percent of French aged 18-30 regard themselves as Europeans only. Twelve percent consider themselves mainly European and a bit French, while 70 percent view themselves as mainly or exclusively French. Yet 65 percent of those who voted “no” remain favorable to the development of the European project. However, pro-European positions overall are in decline. While a poll in June 2004 found 85 percent were in favor of a common European defense, this had declined to 74 percent in 2005. Similarly, while in 2004, 50 percent opposed Turkey’s admission to the EU compared to 43 percent in favor, a year later, opposition had increased slightly to 52 percent, while only 38 percent were in favor.39

The outcome of the French vote led EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, a former UK Labour minister, to remark: “The decisive ‘no’ vote amongst the younger generation in France was distressing. The old European project of ‘an end to war’ has inevitably lost resonance. The freedoms Europe offers – democracy and human rights across our continent, the freedom to travel, study, work and settle in different European countries – are taken for granted. They should not. We are only fifteen years from the end of the Soviet Union, and much closer still to the horrors of the former Yugoslavia. We must beware of amnesia.”40

The vote of the French agricultural sector – which has benefited so much from EU subsidies – also went heavily against the constitution. This is unlikely to endear France to the countries that fund its subsidies. Many French citizens appear to agree that the country’s national identity is under attack, both externally from EU supranationalism and internally from aggressive elements in the Muslim community.

The French social model, based on a major role for the state, a high degree of social protection, and very restrictive labor laws, seems to be in crisis as well.41 A recent OECD study concluded that since 1997, France had not made any progress in sorting out its public finances and that, even in good economic times, structural unemployment was around nine percent. The study pointed out that the role of the public sector in the French economy – over 50 percent – is one of the highest in the OECD, and recommended a major fiscal restructuring. The slow growth of France’s economy is also not helpful to French pretensions of being a European leader.42

Taking Aim at France and Chirac

In recent years, France has irritated many of its European partners by its arrogance, as expressed in particular by President Jacques Chirac. There are some signals of France’s reduced status in Europe already. Martin Schultz of German Chancellor Schroeder’s Socialist party (SPD) is chairman of the PSE (Socialist group) in the European Parliament, which numbers 201 of the parliament’s 732 members. Schultz said he had heard extreme nationalist statements when promoting the “no” vote from leading French socialists – and in particular from Henri Emanuelli, a former secretary general of the PS (Socialist party). Schultz concluded that some of these statements, if translated into German, called up associations “with a terrible period of our national history.”

Schultz also said that Chirac – Schroeder’s partner in the French-German axis – was causing German socialists many worries, as “he does not care about Europe. All he has done is to provide a national response to the poll by changing the government.”43

The French socialist daily Liberation quoted an anonymous high EU functionary in Brussels in reference to Chirac: “There is a strong contrast between the solemnity of his words and the grotesqueness of his situation after the massive disavowal expressed in the referendum.”44

Former Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene, an architect of the proposed EU constitution, said, “It is clear that the French ‘no’ brings Europe to a kind of standstill….The French are completely without orientation and in a period of complete uncertainty.”45

The New Members’ Reaction

Some prominent politicians in the new member countries also were not kind in their judgment of France’s rejection of the constitution. The president of the Polish parliament, Wlodzimierz Cimoscewicz, a former foreign minister, said that “France was facing an extreme weakening of its position in Europe.”46 In Poland they still remember Chirac’s arrogant remark in 2003 about Eastern European support for the Americans in Iraq, that “they had lost a good occasion for remaining silent.” The publisher of the daily Gazeta Wyborcza, Adam Michnik, a well-known dissident under communist Polish rule, said, “Jacques Chirac has presented the constitution as the best tool to confront the American model. I had thought that Europe originated as a counter-model to totalitarianism.”47

The mythical figure of the “Polish plumber” played a major role in the “no” vote in the French election campaign as a symbol of the low-paid Eastern European immigrant in France willing to work long hours at low pay and taking jobs away from local workers. While this imaginary worker became the embodiment of French fears of the future, in fact, there is a shortage of 6,000 plumbers in France and there are only 150 Polish plumbers in the country. Former Polish President Lech Walesa, an electrician by trade, said of the plumber: “I suggest that he ask the French why the heck for so many years they encouraged Poles to build capitalism, when as it turns out they are Communists themselves.”48

The budget crisis resulting from the failed Brussels summit particularly hurt the new members in need of financial help. Poland, the largest among them, tried unsuccessfully to arrange a meeting of the French, German, and British foreign ministers to find a solution. Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld said that the EU is a huge and unique political project which requires leadership which is not there.49

Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs Artis Pabriks, interviewed by the French daily Le Monde, attacked the idea of a Europe where some countries would integrate faster than others, saying this was impossible now that the populations of two EU founding members had voted against the constitution. Pabriks suggested that the French study Latvia’s reforms of the past decade to learn how to preserve its welfare state: “Times have changed from when one could only learn from the best established EU states. Younger and less established states may well have better systems.” Such comments from a minister of a small, new EU member country with a population less than five percent of France would have sounded like a sacrilege a few weeks earlier.50

Talking Down the Euro

The most extreme attack came from one of the EU’s founding members. Roberto Maroni, the Italian Minister of Labor, Health and Social Welfare who represents the populist Northern League party, suggested that the euro be abolished and that Italy return to the lira. Since many Italian industrialists suffer from foreign competition, this position may be helpful to Maroni’s party in elections.51

Maroni is on a track that others may join for very different reasons. The euro’s performance before the crisis, when it kept rising against the dollar, seemed impressive. Now one hears critical voices such as: “In those countries that converted to it, the euro has been a prescription for zero growth, cutting the average citizen’s purchasing power by anywhere from one-fifth to a half, depending on whose estimates one uses. By contrast, countries that successfully resisted the euro, like Britain and Sweden, are in good shape.”52

It is reported that leading investment banks are advising their clients to focus on single countries rather than on Europe as an entity. Furthermore, several major banks are advising caution with regard to the euro. Alex Patelis, chief currency strategist of Merrill Lynch, said, “I have never seen such a pessimistic mood about the euro.” Christophe Duval-Kiefer, of the CSFB investment bank, said, “A currency without a country can only blossom if its member states have common interests and coordinate their policies.” Strategist Steve Barrow of Bear Stearns said that there was a 20 to 25 percent chance over a ten-year period that the euro would fail.53

Will Anti-Americanism Weaken?

Some observers hope that the EU crisis will dilute the anti-American position of several of its members or even provide stronger support for an American-European alliance.54 In its wake, the anti-Israel stance of Europe may also be weakened. The European desire to rid itself of its Holocaust guilt will remain, however, particularly in Germany.55

After the rejection of the EU constitution, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Daniel Fried said the United States wants a strong Europe as a partner. In order to confront the new century’s security threats, Washington seeks a politically strong Europe capable of working with the United States on a common agenda. Fried added that Europe is a marvelous idea founded on liberty, solidarity, and the end of wars.56

If Europe were truly all this, the United States would indeed be better off if the EU were stronger. In the meantime, however, the Western world would benefit if the Europeans – in view of their constitutional crisis – undertook a profound soul-searching with regard to their political worldview, which is based largely on appeasement.

In fact, the lack of trust between the French and Americans has increased substantially, according to a recent poll by TNS-Sofres. Thirty-one percent of the French have sympathy for Americans, down from 54 percent in 1988. Thirty-five percent of Americans have sympathy for France. Forty-four percent of Americans consider France a “partner,” while 45 percent define France as an “adversary,” up from 14 percent in 2000.57

Paying Off France through EU Middle Eastern Policies

Nevertheless, EU-Israeli relations might continue to deteriorate. While France may have to give in to its partners on many more issues than in the past, Middle East policy is a secondary matter for the EU. Thus, after the defeat in the polls, President Chirac may be even more desirous to maintain the international facade of French grandeur. In his own party, he is increasingly under pressure from Sarkozy. In the French Fifth Republic, foreign policy is the prerogative of the president, and the Middle East could be one area where Chirac may seek compensation for his domestic troubles.

French newspapers in June quoted visitors who described the French president as depressed. One high UMP functionary told a journalist that Chirac is “an old, disconnected man who does not understand very well what has happened to him.” An ex-minister in Chirac’s party said: “He keeps silent, hears his conversation partner without listening to him. I have never seen him like that.”58

Inviting Sharon to Paris

Despite this state of mind, Chirac suddenly took a Middle East initiative. On 7 June he invited Ariel Sharon to be his guest in Paris before the beginning of the summer. A year earlier, Chirac had cancelled an invitation to the Israeli prime minister after Sharon had called upon French Jews to move to Israel in view of rising anti-Semitism in France.

While Chirac had personally paid extravagant honor a few months earlier to a dying Yasser Arafat, one of the world’s leading terrorists, in his letter to Sharon, Chirac wrote that he sought to strengthen the “French-Israeli partnership.” He called Israel’s Gaza withdrawal plan “determined and courageous,” adding: “More than ever, France with its European partners wants to be by your side so that the withdrawal sets off a positive dynamic and so that Israel, like its neighbors, can finally benefit from the peace and stability that each one of them is hoping for.”

Sharon accepted the invitation, but informed the French that he could only come at a later date, due to the Gaza disengagement.59 There was no reason for Israel to help raise the international status of France at this difficult moment for Chirac who, more than any other leader, embodies Europe’s political duplicity toward Israel. It was symbolic for Israel’s position in Europe that a senior national leader in political trouble sought to raise the Middle Eastern issue as a way to lift his depressed status and try to benefit in a yet unclear way from Israel’s disengagement in Gaza.

It has now been announced that Sharon will visit Paris on 27 July. The Israeli press reported that he would be given a military reception, while Israeli prime ministers are generally received in France for “working visits” that do not include such ceremonies. One of the subjects on the agenda is a French initiative for a new Middle East peace conference.60

Fueling EU Escapism

The EU’s weakness may also have undesirable results for Israel. France’s overall frustration about its reduced European role may well make it even more biased in its Middle East policies. Israeli diplomacy will have to be alert to these possibilities, even as it deals with a more generally weakened EU.

Many EU members will now try to reduce France’s influence on issues important to them. This may mean that they will still be willing to go along with France’s leadership in anti-Israel policies as a payoff to France on what for them is a less important subject. The hasty invitation to Sharon may indicate that Chirac’s frustration about France’s reduced European role will make him more focused on Middle East policies. Since these are heavily biased against Israel, this may spell additional trouble, even if Sharon’s forthcoming Paris visit is viewed as a success.

At the end of June, EU parliamentary president Josep Borrell Fontelles announced during a visit to Israel that the EU wants to hold a major diplomatic event in Ramallah or Jericho after the disengagement. This initiative comes despite the fact that there are no indications that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas intends to disarm terrorists. This is a further indication that the EU’s political problems may fuel its escapism toward the Middle East.61

Turkey and Israel

In the long term, there is another result of the EU crisis which may become very significant for Israel. Since the negative votes in the referenda on the constitution, the voices against Turkey becoming a full member of the EU have become louder and more frequent.

EU negotiations with Turkey are due to begin on 3 October 2005. While an EU Commission paper states that the goal of the negotiations is Turkey’s adhesion to the EU, it also mentions that the negotiations are “a process of which the result is open and cannot be guaranteed.” The UK remains very favorable to Turkey’s adhesion, but unanimity of all EU members is required, which seems an elusive goal.

The discussions of the EU commissioners regarding this paper had been intense. Several of those belonging to the Christian Democrat faction (EVP) wanted to include the alternative idea of a privileged partnership, and the commissioner in charge of the negotiations, Olli Rehn from Finland, said that this subject “would accompany the EU in the coming years.”62

Turkey’s politicians and newspapers now regularly refer to a changed climate in the EU in recent weeks. EU Commission President Barroso’s remark that Turkey’s adhesion “is an open issue” also plays a substantial role there.63

Turkey’s membership in the EU is of relevance to Israel for two reasons. First, it would require further steps toward democratization in Turkey, thus moving the country closer to Europe and farther away from the Islamic world. Second, it could influence Israel’s formal relationship with the EU.

Israeli political scientist Yehezkel Dror had analyzed the issue in some detail before the EU crisis.

Having Turkey as a full member of the EU changes its nature. The EU was an attempt to culturally unify Western Christian Europe. The admission of a major Muslim country, even if moderate, ruptures Europe’s historic base. The latter is already being tested through major Muslim immigration.

Yet saying to Turkey now: “You are a Muslim country, you cannot be admitted,” is a declaration of culture clash with very serious dangers. If Turkey is pushed into the arms of Islamic fundamentalism, this will destabilize the Middle East further and make the Arab-Israeli conflict even more radical. This will have very serious repercussions for Europe that its citizens are presently unaware of. To sum up: due to its lack of strategic thinking while it had other options, the EU has to admit Turkey as a member despite the high cultural cost.64

If the EU does not admit Turkey as a full member, it will probably propose an attractive privileged partnership. This may prevent Turkey from turning away from Europe and toward the Islamic world. There are recent reports that Saudi Arabia and Malaysia are providing substantial unofficial aid to Turkey, on condition that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Reconciliation Party (AKP) distance itself from Israel.65

Occasionally, the question of Israel becoming an EU member has been raised and polls in Israel have been favorable to the idea. While there are many reasons why EU membership for Israel would not be desirable, a special partnership arrangement could be attractive. If EU negotiations with Turkey tilt toward a privileged partnership, this may also facilitate a similar agreement for Israel.

Israel a Privileged EU Partner?

Today in Europe there are a number of proponents of making Israel a privileged partner. Hildegard Muller, a member of the German parliament for the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and chairperson of the German-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group, notes: “Such a partnership would need to go beyond a customs union. It would also have to involve Israel in a European security and defense policy with both security guarantees and the corresponding obligations. It could also form the basis for further cooperation, together with other partners, in combating terrorism, extremism, and crime. This could be done partly by intensifying cooperation between security agencies.”

Muller adds: “Europe must recognize that if it genuinely wants peace in the Middle East, it needs to offer security. Only if Israel’s security is guaranteed can new trust be created. There is scarcely a single other state in the world besides Israel that is not a member of a regional alliance. The reasons for that are not primarily of Israel’s making. Europe can help alleviate the feeling of isolation resulting from this.”66

Following the nuances of Turkey’s negotiations with the EU is thus a matter of prime importance for Israel. It will also help Israel to better focus on what it seeks out of its relationship with the European Union.


* This Jerusalem Viewpoints is an expanded version of a Jerusalem Issue Brief (Vol. 4, No. 25, 26 June 2005) by the author on this topic.
1. William Shawcross, “European Attitudes to Israel,” European-Israeli Dialogue, Berlin, 14-15 December 2002,
2. Robert Kagan, Of Paradise and Power, America and Europe in the New World Order (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003), p. 60.
3. Shawcross.
4. For more background, see Manfred Gerstenfeld, Israel and Europe: An Expanding Abyss (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 2005).
5. Manfred Gerstenfeld, Interview with Jeffrey Gedmin, “Experiencing European Anti-Americanism and Anti-Israelism,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, no. 27, 1 December 2004.
6. Manfred Gerstenfeld, Interview with Andrei Markovits, “European Anti-Americanism and Anti-Semitism: Similarities and Differences,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, no. 16, 1 January 2004.
7. Manfred Gerstenfeld, Interview with Dore Gold, “Europe’s Consistent Anti-Israeli Bias at the United Nations,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, no. 34, 1 July 2005.
8. Manfred Gerstenfeld, “The Two Faces of France,” Jerusalem Post, 20 December 2004.
9. Personal interview with Yehuda Blum.
10. Manfred Gerstenfeld, Interview with Dore Gold.
11. David Pryce-Jones, “Jews, Arabs, and French Diplomacy,” Commentary, May 2005.
12. Bat Ye’or, Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis (Madison: Farleigh Dickenson University Press, 2005), p. 49.
13. “Britain’s Straw Admits Contacts with Hamas,”, 7 June 2005.
14. Zeev Schiff, “The European Union Will Allow Diplomats to Meet with Hamas,” Ha’aretz, 16 June 2005.
15. Manfred Gerstenfeld, Interview with Mark Sofer, “Israel and the New Accession States of the European Union,” Israel and Europe: An Expanding Abyss, p. 214.
16. Nicholas Watt and Michael White, “Blair-Chirac Feud ‘Could Destroy Europe,'” Guardian, 1 July 2005.
17. “Barroso Sees No EU Constitution for Years,” Reuters, 1 July 2005.
18. Cathy Newman, “Insider Brands Brussels a ‘Bureaucratic Nightmare,'” Financial Times, 30 June 2005.
19. Manfred Gerstenfeld, “Rewriting Germany’s Nazi Past – A Society in Moral Decline,” Jerusalem Viewpoints, no. 530, 1 May 2005.
20. Jacqueline Coignard, Emmanuel Davidenkoff, Nathalie Raulin, Tonino Serafini, and Vanessa Schneider, “Sarkozyste sur l’immigration et la securite,” Liberation, 9 June 2005. [French]
21. Paul Johnson, “A Sick Continent,” Wall Street Journal, 17 June 2005.
22. Philippe Gouillaud, “Chirac met en question la poursuite de l’elargissement,” Le Figaro, 17 June 2005. [French]
23. Martin Halusa, “Sarkozy will Erweiterung der EU stoppen,” Die Welt, 28 June 2005. [German]
24. Christophe Forcari, “Le FN invite a parler d’Europe, Hollande boycotte Matignon,” Liberation, 27 June 2005. [French]
25. “La cote de confiance de M.Chirac s’effondre,” Le Monde, 3 June 2005. [French]
26. Thomas Lebegue, “Pour Sarkozy, ‘Chirac n’est plus un adversaire,'” Liberation, 1 July 2005. [French]
27. Roger Wilkison, “EU Faces Crisis of Confidence after Charter Rejections,” VOA News, 2 June 2005.
28. “EU Agonizes Over Fate of Charter: Dutch Follow French and Reject Proposed Constitution,”, 2 June 2005.
29. Raymond van den Boogaard, “Premier onwennig onderhandelaar namens Nee-land,” NRC Handelsblad, 15 June 2005. [Dutch]
30. ANP, “Kamer roept regering op tot harde onderhandelingen,” De Volkskrant, 15 June 2005. [Dutch]
31. Ned Temko and Alex Duval Smith, “Blair to Push Ahead in Drive for EU Reform,” Observer, 19 June 2005.
32. Theo Koele, “Chirac sprak over volgevreten landen,” Volkskrant, 21 June 2005. [Dutch]
33. Nicholas Watt and Patrick Wintour, “Rebate Row Wrecks EU Summit,” Guardian, 18 June 2005.
34. “Bruxelles tente d’arbitrer le match Blair-Chirac,” Liberation, 22 June 2005. [French]
35. “Blair ne veut plus subventionner les vaches,” Liberation, 22 June 2005. [French]
36. Timothy Garton Ash, “No Time for Petty Rivalry,” Guardian, 23 June 2005.
37. Lorraine Millot, “Chirac amuse ses amis Poutine et Schroeder a Kaliningrad,” Liberation, 4 July 2005. [French]
38. Patrick Barkham, “Chirac’s Reheated Food Jokes Bring Blair to the Boil,” Guardian, 5 July 2005.
39. Alain Auffray, “Pourquoi les moins de 30 ans boudent l’Europe,” Liberation, 29 June 2005.
40. “Peter Mandelson’s Speech on a New Consensus for Europe,” Guardian, 14 June 2005.
41. Claire Guelaud, “Le modele social francais est a bout de souffle,” Le Monde, 2 June 2005. [French]
42. “L’OCDE appelle la France a reformer en profondeur son systeme fiscal ainsi que le droit de travail,” 16 June 2005. [French]
43. Jean Quatremer, “Chirac se moque de l’Europe,” Le Monde, 10 June 2005. [French]
44. Marc Semo, Odile Benyahia-Kouider, Armelle Thoraval, Eric Jozsef, and Maja Zoltowska, “Chirac serial-loser vu de l’Elysee,” Liberation, 16 June 2005. [French]
45. Elaine Sciolino, “France’s Rejection of EU Charter Emboldens Opponents,” New York Times, 30 May 2005.
46. Marc Semo, et al., “Chirac serial-loser.”
47. Richard Wagner, “Szenen einer Ehe. Die ostmitteleuropaischen Intellektuellen und das franzosische ‘non,'” Neue Zurcher Zeitung, 1 July 2005. [German]
48. Elaine Sciolino, “Unlikely Hero in Europe’s Spat: The Beckoning ‘Polish Plumber,'” New York Times, 26 June 2005.
49. “L’homme Adam Rotfeld,” Liberation, 27 June 2005. [French]
50. Antoine Jacob, “Ceux qui veulent un noyau dur parlent de division de l’Europe,” Le Monde, 10 June 2005. [French]
51. Roger Cohen, “Globalist: Nostalgia for the Lira Reflects EU in Disarray,” International Herald Tribune, 18 June 2005.
52. Michel Gurfinkiel, “Europe’s ‘No,'” Commentary, July-August 2005, p. 45.
53. Anja Struve and Holger Zschapitz, “Wahrung ohne Land,”, 1 July 2005.
54. “Vive la France! les neoconservateurs americains expriment leur joie,” Le Monde, 30 May 2005. [French]
55. Gerstenfeld, “Rewriting Germany’s Nazi Past.”
56. Veronique Soule, “Washington s’inquiete de la crise europeenne,” Liberation, 9 June 2005. [French]
57. “Francais et Americains gardent une vision negative les uns des autres,” Le Monde, 17 June 2005. [French]
58. Antoine Guiral, “Jacques Chirac en etat de choc,” Liberation, 16 June 2005. [French]
59. “Chirac Invites Israel’s Sharon to Visit France,”, 15 June 2005.
60. Aluf Benn, “Sharon to Visit France Next Month and Meet Pres. Chirac,” Ha’aretz, 29 June 2005.
61. Tovah Lazaroff, “Europeans Push for Major EU Event in PA Territory,” Jerusalem Post, 29 June 2005.
62. Katja Ridderbusch, “Die EU baut der Turkei neue Hurden auf,” Die Welt, 30 June 2005. [German]
63. Marc Semo, “Le reve European plombeen Turquie,”, 30 June 2005.
64. Manfred Gerstenfeld, Interview with Yehezkel Dror, “The EU and Israel: Radically Different Worldviews,” Israel and Europe: An Expanding Abyss, p. 30.
65. Michael Rubin, “Green Money, Islamist Politics in Turkey,” Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2005, Volume XII, No. 1.
66. Manfred Gerstenfeld, Interview with Hildegard Muller, “Israel and Europe: The Positive and the Negative,” Israel and Europe: An Expanding Abyss, p. 44.

 – Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is chairman of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is an international business strategist who has been a consultant to governments, international agencies, and boards of some of the world’s largest corporations. Among his ten books are Europe’s Crumbling Myths: The Post-Holocaust Origins of Today’s Anti-Semitism (JCPA, Yad Vashem, WJC, 2003); The New Clothing of European Anti-Semitism, co-edited with Shmuel Trigano (Editions Cafe Noir, 2004 – French); and, most recently, Israel and Europe: An Expanding Abyss? (JCPA and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 2005).