ONE OF the biggest talking points of the past few months has concerned where the war on Iraq leaves relations between Europe and the US. Many people on the left have been speculating that the European Union (EU) can, under French and German leadership, emerge as a counterweight to the US.
One of the most remarkable examples is provided by a paper written by Bernard Cassen, the dominant figure in ATTAC, the French movement campaigning for the regulation of financial markets. Cassen acknowledges that French president Jacques Chirac, along with his prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, is implementing vicious neo-liberal policies in France.
The most notable are the attacks on pensions that have been provoking such resistance. Still, Cassen muses, 'How, in France, to support Chirac abroad while fighting Raffarin at home?' He goes on to wonder whether or not ATTAC should support the proposals for European defence put forward by France, Germany, and Belgium.
'Confronted with an American strategy based on the discretionary use of force,' Cassen argues, 'the movement for another world can't practise an ostrich-like policy with regard to defence.' This is very close to saying that the answer to US militarism is European militarism. This conjures up the terrifying prospect of a new arms race.
Or rather it would, were there any prospect of the French and Germans pursuing a consistent policy of challenging US hegemony. But last week in New York they crumbled in the face of the Anglo-American conquest of Iraq and voted for a United Nations Security Council legitimising the country's occupation. Frenzy
The US and Britain have been recognised as the occupying 'authority' and given control over the country's oil revenues. In exchange, they have agreed to consult over how they spend the money and have accepted a higher-status UN representative in Iraq. These concessions amount to little more than a fig leaf ill-concealing the imposition of a US colonial regime.
On both sides of the Atlantic conferences organised by Bechtel, one of the main US contractors in Iraq, have provoked a positive feeding frenzy, as thousands of companies fight to get their snouts into the trough. The collapse of the anti-war front at the UN doesn't mean that the conflicts before the war have disappeared.
Next year the EU will be joined by ten new states, most of them ex-Stalinist countries in Eastern and Central Europe. Most of their governments are desperate to prove their pro-American credentials.
Donald Rumsfeld's infamous invocation of 'New Europe' against France and Germany was much more than mere rhetoric. Philip Stephens wrote in the Financial Times recently:
'The new organising principle of US foreign policy is to assemble coalitions of the willing and of the coerced behind the projection of American power... Seen from Washington, a cohesive Europe is one tempted to answer back. A divided one cannot challenge US power.'
One sign of this strategy has been the US decision to ask Poland to take responsibility for one zone in Iraq.
When Germany made it clear that the Polish government couldn't expect the EU to pay for their troops in Iraq, Washington said it would find the cash. Meanwhile, as Stephens puts it, 'France is to be punished, Germany shunned and Russia brought into the fold... Mr Bush still refuses to take a telephone call from Gerhard Schršder.' This is a naked policy of divide and rule.
The same viewpoint is even more strongly expressed by David Marquand is last week's New Statesman. Marquand is a leading figure in the old Labour extreme right.
Pro-European and pro-US, he followed Roy Jenkins to Brussels when the latter became President of the European Commission and then into the Social Democratic Party.
More recently, Marquand provided much of what amounts to intellectual substance in the ideology of New Labour. But now Marquand denounces 'the chauvinistic utopianism' of the Bush administration and declares that 'Tony Blair's shameful disloyalty to his fellow Europeans has ensured that, for the foreseeable future, the European Union will not be a serious force in global politics.'
Funnily enough, he ends up in the same place as Cassen, hoping that 'a Franco-Russo-German bloc' may end up as 'an alternative pole of power' to the US. This is a recipe for a return to the inter-imperialist rivalries that produced the two world wars.
What we want instead is a genuinely different world where the hold of the great capitalist powers now fighting over the spoils of Iraq is finally broken.