Jewish World Review May 12, 2003 / 10 Iyar, 5763

Zev Chafets

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That noise is Europe rising | Legend has it that after Sandy Koufax refused to pitch a World Series game on Yom Kippur, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Walter Alston bought himself a desk calendar that listed every Jewish festival.

Call it the Alston Principle: Those who ignore the holidays of others are condemned to celebrate them.

In case you didn't notice, Friday was Europe Day, the European Fourth of July. This annual event commemorates a speech delivered May 9, 1950, to the French Parliament by France's then-foreign minister, Robert Schuman, in which he called for the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community, which ...

Hey, wake up! I know this stuff is boring - the very mention of the European Coal and Steel Community in ninth-grade geography class put me to into a deep sleep. I recall opening one eye back in 1993 after seeing a headline about a new Single European Market, mistaking it for a new European single malt, and dozing off again.

Meanwhile, as I slumbered, the European Union was taking shape out of all that coal and steel. Most Americans, if they thought of it at all, regarded European unity as a good thing. It meant an end to war, easier passport controls and the availability of thin-soled Italian shoes at competitive prices all across the continent.

And so the Ninth of May was ignored, and why not? The European Union seemed like a Brussels-based lodge of gentrified merchants, a benign little club whose birth was no more worthy of commemoration than the founding of the International Kiwanis Club.

Even after President Bush came to office and Europeans began castigating Washington for unilateralism, there was a tendency here to see Europe as too boring and self-absorbed to really mean anything by it. It was generally assumed that the criticism stemmed from a naive but sincere vision of international good citizenship. After all, Europe was America's friend and ally. Why would it want to hurt U.S. interests?

But it does. The events of the past six months have made that clear. France, Germany and Belgium - the heart of the European Union - are sick of playing second violin to a bunch of tin-eared cowboy fiddlers. They have an entirely different set of interests and ambitions.

The union is not wholly under the sway of Paris, Berlin and Brussels - although there are signs that Franco-German anti-Americanism has won a lot of hearts and minds in the European outback. Nor is it a fully formed union. But it is moving in that direction.

On Europe Day, Romano Prodi, the European Commission president, called for the adoption of a common constitution that would make the union "more efficient and less complex."

It is far from clear that America's interest lies in a more efficient Germany ruling, along with France, the continent of Europe. On the contrary, the U.S. needs to consider the real possibility that a united, hostile Europe could develop into a strategic threat.

So far, France and Germany lack the audacity and military muscle to directly challenge America. But that could change. Russia, the perennial continental wanna-be, already has a nuclear arsenal. For cannon fodder, the loss-averse Europeans already are cultivating friends and allies in the Third World.

I'm not suggesting that America and the European Union are on the brink of war. That's as far-fetched as imagining France and Germany aligning themselves with Iraq's Saddam Hussein against the President of the United States.

But I do think the President should adopt the Alston Principle, get himself a European calendar and keep his eye on the Ninth of May. The rest of us, too. We need to begin paying closer attention to what exactly it is they're celebrating over there.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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