Feb 25, 2005 4:24 pm


I am pasting the entire article because the FT is a subscription paper, so at times it is difficult to find the piece.

It is time for old Europe to turn back towards liberty
By Philip Stephens
Published: February 25 2005 02:00 | Last updated: February 25 2005 02:00

A thought for Europeans as George W. Bush returns to Washington. You can keep faith with your opposition to the Iraq war. You can hold on to the belief (as I do) that the US president's first-term foreign policy was recklessly unilateralist. You can remain true to the argument that global security depends on respect for the rule of law from the powerful as well as the weak. Now, stop and think. None of the above should leave Europe on the side of tyranny and stability in the contest with freedom and democracy. Instead of scowling when Mr Bush speaks of liberty, Europeans should recall who wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Then they should deliver their own freedom speech.

Two small episodes this week shone a light into the dark corner into which many in Europe have backed themselves. The first was the uncomfortable shuffling of feet in Brussels' Concert Noble banquet hall as Mr Bush set out America's strategic commitment to the advance of democracy. The second was the lukewarm reception from some leaders of "Old Europe" for Viktor Yushchenko, the Ukrainian president, at the subsequent Nato summit.

To be fair, Guy Verhofstadt did make a glancing reference to freedom in his introduction to Mr Bush's speech. The Belgian prime minister seemed to acknowledge that, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Europeans have forgotten the universal appeal of their own ideas. Later during the Brussels jamboree, I thought I heard Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg prime minister, say something similar.

These, though, were fleeting moments. For the rest, it seemed that every time the US president talked of liberty, one or other European leader would unfurl the standard of stability. Every American evocation of idealism collided with European realism. The religion of realism once preached by Henry Kissinger has been cast out by the evangelicals in the White House only to be revered as revealed truth in the self-consciously secular chancelleries of Old Europe.

Thus when Mr Yushchenko joined the US-European summitry at Nato, the reception from some European leaders was cool. France's Jacques Chirac left the room after the opening statements. Germany's Gerhard Schröder and Spain's José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero remained ostentatiously silent about Mr Yushchenko's ambition to turn Ukraine into a fully fledged democracy.

I am assured by French officials that this was not a co-ordinated snub. Mr Chirac had a pre-arranged meeting that could not be rescheduled. To others, though, it seemed an odd coincidence that, in shunning Mr Yushchenko, these three leaders had avoided giving offence to Russia's Vladimir Putin. As Mr Zapatero left the room he was heard to remark that the session had not been "very sexy" - this from the leader of a country not too long ago freed from fascism. Mr Schröder's silence seemed similarly deaf to the more recent liberation of East Germany.

It is not just the French and Germans though. Tony Blair gets as close to Mr Bush's rhetoric as any European leader. But the prime minister's liberal interventionism, which long predates the Iraq war, sees him attacked both by foreign policy realists on the conservative right and by those on the left of his own Labour party who now value anti-Americanism above internationalism.

Though it pains me to say it, there is something in the distinction made by Donald Rumsfeld, US defence secretary, between "Old" and "New" Europe. If the leaders of much of the western half of the continent are at best uncomfortable with the rhetoric of liberty, the same cannot be said of the new democracies of central and eastern Europe. The Poles, the Czechs, the Lithuanians and Latvians speak Mr Bush's language, and unapologetically so. It was no accident that while the big powers of western Europe (Britain included) hesitated as the Ukrainian crisis first unfolded last autumn, the Polish and Lithuanian presidents insisted the European Union take a stand on the side of democracy.

The maddening thing about all this is the spread of freedom and the rule of law have long been the EU's vocation. Spain, Portugal and Greece are members of the European club because the others wanted to solidify their emergence from authoritarianism. Enlargement to the east has served that purpose in the former Soviet space. Negotiations with Turkey are to the same end. The Union uses aid, trade and economic agreements to promote human rights and good governance in every corner of the globe. As Mark Leonard of the Centre for European Reform sets out in a new book*, Europe's transformative power within and beyond the continent's borders is often underestimated.

So why do so many of its leaders recoil from the language of democracy? Why do they seem so anxious to cuddle up to Mr Putin as he tightens the authoritarian screw in Russia and to lift the embargo on arms sales to China? The opening paragraphs of the EU's new constitutional treaty speak of "respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law". Nothing there about the primacy of stability.

Of course, there is a place for realism. Mr Bush acknowledged as much. Iraq, even after last month's elections, remains potent testimony to the hazards of seeking to impose democracy at the point of a gun. Spreading freedom in the Middle East does not mean the region must first be reduced to armed chaos.

There are powerful and legitimate arguments, too, against the manner of Mr Bush's mission. This week I heard senior US officials place the president's ambitions in the distinguished tradition of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt. But there is a vital difference. Those two leaders sought to realise their goals through the extension into the international arena of the US attachment to the rule of law. Mr Bush has forgotten that modern multilateralism was made in America.

For all that, a glance around the world should tell Europe's leaders that they can no longer worship at the altar of stability. Press them hard enough and they will admit that the spread of democracy and freedom is indeed the best guarantor of our security. That means soft power must sometimes be given a hard edge. Too many in Europe have surrendered idealism to a dislike of Mr Bush. The time has come to reclaim the Statue of Liberty.

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