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Published: Wednesday, 1/12/2005

Choices, conflicts for Europe

Part of an occasional series

IT IS a mark of the progress that Europe has experienced since World War II that its problems are defined now in more limited swings of the pendulum than occur in other parts of the world.

They also seem to be more economic than political in nature, and the issues seem frequently to revolve around the European Union, increasingly the dominant institution of Western Europe.

There are exceptions. The war in Kosovo ended in 1999, but there is still no agreement between the Albanian majority and the Serb minority, which requires the stationing of peacekeeping forces there. Bosnia-Herzegovina moved toward normalcy in 2004 as responsibility for peacekeeping passed into EU hands.

The conflict between the Spanish government and Spain's Basque minority heated up toward the end of 2004 as the Basques challenged Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero by asserting a right to secession. The most shocking violent act of the year in Western Europe occurred in Spain, although it was not over the Basques but Spain's participation with the United States in the Iraq war.

One feature of 2005 will be the attempts by the EU's 15 older members to bring the 10 new members that earned membership in 2004 up to the EU's economic and political standards. Maintaining political comfort among EU countries will require lifting the new members toward economic parity. The process of digestion and march toward economic homogenization will inevitably be expensive for the richer members of the union: Germany, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

With respect to U.S. relations, one difficult point will be the relative importance that the European states attach to their membership in NATO, as opposed to the new EU force. Since European defense budgets are not likely to expand, that will increasingly become a choice European governments will have to make. They are likely to choose to please Europe and offend America rather than short-change the increasingly important EU defense force, which underpins the emerging, independent EU foreign policy. Steps will also have to be taken to prepare the way for accession talks with Turkey, to begin in 2007. One issue to be resolved is the complex relationship between old member Greece, new member Greek Cyprus, Turkey, and Turkish Cyprus.

Europe has elections galore scheduled for 2005. None is likely to achieve the drama of last year's elections in Ukraine, with a poisoning, mass demonstrations, and three rounds of voting before the election of West-leaning Viktor Yushchenko in December. Elections are scheduled in Croatia, Portugal, Greece, Albania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Norway, Poland, and Denmark. A referendum will be held in France on the new EU constitution, an acid test of that important document.

Another phenomenon to watch closely is how Western Europe deals with the issue of the growing Muslim presence, and more persistent assertion by Muslims of their rights as citizens and residents. One disturbing aspect is that some Muslim extremists in European countries are taking their resentment of Israel's approach to Palestinians as a reason to carry out acts of anti-Semitism in European countries. Governments must clamp down on these crimes and not permit an external issue to foment violence and violation of civil rights at home.

The issues in Europe in 2005 are for the most part fully capable of being resolved within the bounds of normal politics. Some are, nonetheless, serious in nature.



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