A Gasp from Europe

French President Jacques Chirac has alarmed the EU candidate countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The French president has accused them of being "childish" and "irresponsible" in voicing their pro-US stance on the Iraq issue, and warned that their position could be "dangerous," as the decision to let them into the EU has not yet been ratified.

Quite a salvo. Then the French president assumed the role of kindergarten instructor vis-à-vis what he called "badly brought up" candidate countries, telling them that they were "ill-behaved" and that "they missed a great opportunity to shut up."

To anyone who remembers that 40 years ago President Charles de Gaulle slammed Europe's door shut in the face of Britain's request to join the European community--the General thought the British too tied to the US to enter the European family--these remarks are worrying. But put things in perspective: Jacques Chirac is not Charles de Gaulle; and Europe has moved far beyond the time when its agenda was unilaterally written by France.

President Chirac's self-appointed role as an expert in diplomatic good behavior cannot be taken seriously, even by those of us who know (and love) France. Instead, his outburst is best explained as a sign of frustration over the fact that French influence in the EU is being diluted. Like King Lear after he lost his kingdom, there is nothing France can do about its lost influence but rage impotently.