France's Threat to European Unity

At the end of the EU summit in Brussels on Monday--a meeting held to bridge the growing schism over the Union's policy on Iraq--French President Jacques Chirac committed a diplomatic blunder that rivaled US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's snide remarks about "old and new Europe." Chirac chided EU candidate countries for behaving irresponsibly when they expressed support for America's effort to disarm Iraq with the use of force if need be.

The French president spoke of "infantilism" on the part of the candidate countries and said that they should have consulted first with the EU or else remained silent. He also suggested that those countries were putting their chances of joining the EU in jeopardy.

But it is the EU itself that has been jeopardized by Chirac's outburst. Many people in the candidate countries have long been convinced that their countries won't be admitted to the EU as equals. Their objections range from lower farm subsidies for the candidate countries to the new decision-making mechanism in the EU that was adopted at the Nice summit two years ago. Many people view that mechanism as being intended to strengthen the power of the EU's big members to the detriment of small countries.

Public opinion in some candidate countries was ambivalent about the EU even before Chirac's remarks. Now, anti-EU attitudes could well become stronger. Even stalwart supporters of EU membership may feel that their countries are not being treated as equals if they are bullied for holding a different opinion than bigger members. At any rate, Chirac has handed Euroskeptics new ammunition with which to target the "no" vote ahead of EU membership referenda in the candidate countries later this year.