* Mr. Laar is the former prime minister of Estonia
TALLINN — The past few weeks have changed Europe. With their signatures on the “Letter of Eight” and the subsequent “Letter of 10” resolving to stand by the U.S. in the confrontation with Iraq, the future members of NATO and the European Union from the east of the Continent demonstrated that they are not simply interested in joining the Western clubs — but also in influencing them.
The New Europe has arrived with its own aspirations, ideas and hopes. At the same time, deep divisions in Old Europe are now clear to all. France’s Jacques Chirac Monday night made clear his frustration by lashing out at the new Europeans for daring to speak out on behalf of a strong trans-Atlantic relationship. “It is not well brought up behavior,” Mr. Chirac said. “They missed a good opportunity to keep quiet.”
As when Moscow told its Soviet satellites what to do, the countries of Eastern and Central Europe were ordered to shut up. But we do not want to shut up and we will not. Our understanding of Europe is that smaller countries have as much right to speak up as any other country. We could not imagine a Europe where some countries consider themselves more equal than others.
Eastern Europeans are no more eager for war than their counterparts in Western Europe. A unilateral U.S. attack against Iraq would be unpopular here as well. Cooperation and participation are the preferred routes. But that means no one country presumes to speak on behalf of Europe. Everyone must have a voice and do their share. So even before Mr. Chirac’s impromptu lecture, the Franco-German decision to exclude the 10 future EU members from Monday’s dinner party in Brussels went down like a rock in my country. Presumably Paris and Berlin decided to snub the Eastern Europeans because they’re too “pro-American”. Is this how the future EU will function?
For similar reasons, the recent crisis at NATO raised troubling questions, too. If a member-state feels threatened, like Turkey does, and asks NATO to take necessary countermeasures, how can it be rejected (until a quiet deal, behind France’s back, pulls the alliance from the brink)? Is this the great defense institution we all dreamt of joining?
From the point of view of the new Europeans, U.S.-European tensions aren’t to blame. The fault lies within old Europe. Some Europeans, perhaps Mr. Chirac among them, see an American conspiracy in East European support for the U.S.; others think the new Europeans support Washington because only the U.S. can guarantee their security. Still others see a logical reaction to Franco-German attempts to keep a bigger EU under their control.
It’s more complicated than that. These countries, including my own, bring a different historical perspective to the EU and NATO. They experienced not only a short Nazi occupation, but a much longer Communist one. Words such as “freedom” or “democracy” have real meaning in my part of the world. To survive and overthrow dictatorship, people here had to stand by values — even if sometimes that meant hiding them deeply inside yourself. As a result, the Central and Eastern Europe approach to foreign policy is today based more on values than that of Western Europe. They are more receptive to “moral arguments,” on Iraq and a host of other issues and less understanding of “European Realpolitik.”
The new Europeans remember that when President Ronald Reagan issued a moral indictment of the Soviet Union by calling it what it was — an “evil empire” — he was heavily criticized in Western Europe. To them, the evil was self-evident; they couldn’t understand why West Europeans didn’t grasp this simple truth. Mr. Reagan and Margaret Thatcher are still popular in Eastern Europe and even in Russia: their decisiveness boosted the captive nations in their struggle and ultimately brought down the Soviet Union. People in Eastern Europe know appeasement does not work. They know dictatorships must be dealt with head on.
But the new Europe will never turn against old Europe. To the contrary, new Europe wants to reinvigorate all of Europe through enlargement. This is not only in the interest of the new member-states. The “Letter of Eight” was signed by “old” member-states who were frustrated with German and French attempts to claim EU leadership all for themselves. And the Western world needs a united Europe; the U.S. can benefit from it too.
The coming enlargement of the EU will force large-scale reforms upon Europe, whether it wants it or not. Central and Eastern European countries have some of the highest growth rates in Europe. Taxes in future member states are lower, economies more open, labor markets more reasonably regulated, social security networks less expensive. All of which means they should make a united Europe more competitive.
The dramatic stand-off over Iraq is another reminder that it is time for Europe to change. It must become more dynamic, decisive, competitive, open and future-orientated. European nations can retain their unique identities, while remaining open to each other. This is the real European identity — not some false oneness. But it will require genuine cooperation and not a division of Europe into first- and second-class members. It will require a Europe where countries aren’t told to stay quiet but are free to speak their minds.
Unfortunately, some EU members have yet to embrace this message, as Monday’s summit and Mr. Chirac’s great outburst showed. We all need to be proud of Europe but first we must make all Europe new.