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Jewish World Review April 1, 2002 / 20 Nisan, 5762

Michael Barone

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Europeans for the U.S. |
All of Europe, we are repeatedly told, opposes George W. Bush's policies on missile defense, global warming, and the "axis of evil" and views him as "simplistic." This is oft expressed in the New York Times by writers who obviously agree. Yet it simply is not true. Americans are familiar with the staunch support British Prime Minister Tony Blair has given the United States since September 11 and since Bush's "axis of evil" speech. But support for Bush comes from the Continent as well.

As an example, take Italy, with a population and an economy similar to Britain's or France's. Italy was a founder of and remains a strong supporter of the European Union; it happily ditched the lira for the euro, and the EU flag flies next to the Italian tricolor everywhere. But the Italian government solidly supports the United States and George W. Bush. And this is not one of those fragile coalitions Italy used to have. Silvio Berlusconi's center-right Casa delle LibertÓ coalition won a solid majority in the election last May and seems likely to remain in office a full five years. Berlusconi, fluent in French, is taking English lessons and has tried out his English on Bush.

When American journalists were reporting that all of Europe opposed the United States on missile defense, Berlusconi's government, like Blair's, supported Bush's decision to scrap the antiballistic missile treaty and move ahead as a necessary step against terrorist states. When American journalists were reporting that all of Europe opposed Bush's rejection of the Kyoto treaty, Berlusconi said he understood America's reservations. After September 11, Italy sent Navy and Air Force units to aid the war against terrorism in Afghanistan and offered to send Army units as well, and it sent more troops to the Balkans to reduce the need for U.S. troops there.

Solid promise. What about future moves, especially against Iraq? "If, as I believe possible, the United States presents a convincing case that Iraq is engaged in the production of weapons of mass destruction, and that it has the capability of projecting these weapons," Defense Minister Antonio Martino said during an interview in Rome, "then we can convince a majority of Parliament to support the operation. Even the most reluctant Italian would understand." Since there seems to be little doubt that such evidence can be produced-Blair's government even now is promising a white paper on evidence of Iraq's capabilities-this amounts to a solid promise of support. Martino predicts that Germany and Spain will follow suit. "From a purely military point of view, the U.S. does not need anybody,'' he said. "But the U.S. wants to avoid the private thing and have an international coalition. That kind of support is needed, and we will provide it."

Martino also, like some in the Bush administration, is concerned that the EU's proposed Rapid Response Force will displace NATO and is seeking to get EU defense ministers to define its missions carefully and tailor its forces to those missions only.

On the domestic front, Berlusconi's government also wants to move away from the European big-government model and has Bush-like proposals for lower taxes, more flexibility in labor markets, and individual investment accounts to replace part of public pensions. "More flexibility means more jobs," Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti explained in an interview, arguing for his measure to scale back Article 18, which prevents workers in companies with 15 or more employees from being fired.

The plan is strongly opposed by the labor unions, which staged a huge protest rally in Rome March 23; it was the reason cited by Red Brigades terrorists who murdered Marco Biagi, a professor working with the government on labor law, in Bologna March 19. (Security Minister Franco Frattini says there is no evidence of any connection between the Red Brigades and al Qaeda or other Islamist terrorists.) "The unions are very well organized," says Tremonti, "but I'm not pessimistic." He points out that most union members are retirees and that 60 percent of gross domestic product comes from nonunion firms.

So Europe is not monolithically anti-United States on foreign policy nor monolithically committed to the French centralized big-government paradigm. Berlusconi's government in Italy, JosÚ MarÝa Aznar's similar-minded government in Spain, and Blair's government in Britain all have solid parliamentary majorities and strong job approval ratings in the polls-unlike the governments in France and Germany that may well lose in elections scheduled in the next few months. Europe is more with us, and wants to be more like us, than many American journalists would have you think.

Michael Barone Archives

JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©2002, Michael Barone