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Bridge building

France | French president Jacques Chirac's recent attempts to assert himself on the world stage have exposed raw motives

Issue: "Lavelle's wonderful life," Dec. 25, 2004

France opened the highest bridge in the world this month, a multi-spanned beauty crossing a one-and-a-half mile valley through southern France. An airy landmark to French artistry and ingenuity, it's also an inescapable symbol of much about French standing in the world under President Jacques Chirac: an elegant bridge going nowhere.

Mr. Chirac's most recent attempts to assert himself on the world stage have instead served to expose raw motives. Last month he chided Tony Blair for trying to build a bridge across the Atlantic in going to war in Iraq. "Well, Britain gave its support but I did not see anything in return," he said. If congressional investigators have their way, we can expect to see in coming months what Mr. Chirac's government received "in return" for under-the-table deals with Saddam Hussein by way of Oil for Food receipts.

Earlier Mr. Chirac beat a hasty departure from an EU meeting in Brussels, avoiding a first visit by Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. Even the European press fussed at the lack of protocol, and Mr. Allawi warned that countries that opposed the war will be "spectators" if they by-stand on rebuilding efforts. Nonetheless, the EU fiddles over an insignificant contribution-$39 million-to aid training for Iraq's elections, while the United States and its allies-not to mention Iraq's interim government-mobilize for a Jan. 30 poll.

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This month's EU Summit is actually the start of a relevancy test for Mr. Chirac and his ilk. His persistent sawing about a "multipolar" world is sounding off-key even for some of the European Union's own members. Recent actions by the EU-opposing fraudulent elections in Ukraine, negotiating a nuclear stand-down with Iran, and taking over peacekeeping operations from NATO in Bosnia-suggest a growing effort to work with the Bush administration, even if the EU elites won't publicly admit to liking it.

The fact is, Europe itself is outgrowing its elitist leaders. Islam is its fastest-growing religion. The Muslim birthrate in Europe has tripled while birthrates among non-Muslims have dropped to an average of less than 1.5 per couple. French determination to remain pacifist on Iraq is matched by the resolve of Eastern European nations-chiefly Poland, but also others-to commit troops and remain engaged.

Romania, approved to become an EU member by 2007, just elected a president opposed by Mr. Chirac and others. Traian Basescu began the summit meetings openly critical of the EU's clubby rules.

European masses, too, are increasingly unhappy with the radical secularism practiced by EU leaders. Over 1 million Europeans signed a petition calling for changes to the European Constitution to reflect the continent's Christian heritage, but the French blocked the changes as offensive. Yet even Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski, an atheist, said the "Godless" tone of the current constitution is shameful, reports the Acton Institute. "There are no excuses for making references to ancient Greece and Rome, and the -Enlightenment, without making references to the Christian values which are so important to the development of Europe," he said.

Reconnecting to its roots could build a bridge to Europe's future as well as one across the ocean.


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