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On the side of liberty 

Philip Stephens in the Financial Times (subscribers only) reflects on president Bush’s Brussels visit and reckons Europeans came off looking the worse. As much as it pains me to say it, I think he may be right:

  It seemed that every time the US president talked of liberty, one or other European leader would unfurl the standard of stability. Every American evocation of idealism collided with European realism. The religion of realism once preached by Henry Kissinger has been cast out by the evangelicals in the White House only to be revered as revealed truth in the self-consciously secular chancelleries of Old Europe.
  Thus when [Ukrainian president Viktor] Yushchenko joined the US-European summitry at Nato, the reception from some European leaders was cool. France’s Jacques Chirac left the room after the opening statements. Germany’s Gerhard Schröder and Spain’s José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero remained ostentatiously silent about Mr Yushchenko’s ambition to turn Ukraine into a fully fledged democracy.
  I am assured by French officials that this was not a co-ordinated snub. Mr Chirac had a pre-arranged meeting that could not be rescheduled. To others, though, it seemed an odd coincidence that, in shunning Mr Yushchenko, these three leaders had avoided giving offence to Russia’s Vladimir Putin. As Mr Zapatero left the room he was heard to remark that the session had not been “very sexy” – this from the leader of a country not too long ago freed from fascism. Mr Schröder’s silence seemed similarly deaf to the more recent liberation of East Germany.
  It is not just the French and Germans though. Tony Blair gets as close to Mr Bush’s rhetoric as any European leader. But the British prime minister’s liberal interventionism, which long predates the Iraq war, sees him attacked both by foreign policy realists on the conservative right and by those on the left of his own Labour party who now value anti-Americanism above internationalism.
  Though it pains me to say it, there is something in the distinction made by Donald Rumsfeld, US defence secretary, between “Old” and “New” Europe. If the leaders of much of the western half of the continent are at best uncomfortable with the rhetoric of liberty, the same cannot be said of the new democracies of central and eastern Europe. The Poles, the Czechs, the Lithuanians and Latvians speak Mr Bush’s language, and unapologetically so. It was no accident that while the big powers of western Europe (Britain included) hesitated as the Ukrainian crisis first unfolded last autumn, the Polish and Lithuanian presidents insisted the European Union take a stand on the side of democracy.

As Stephens goes on to point out, the core of the European idea was once liberty: it was the bulwark against a return of totalitarianism. But that inspiring vision seems a long way away in the streams of bureaucratese that emanate from Brussels and other EU outposts.

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