are to gather Wednesday in Athens for a historic two-day
summit that will see 10 new states accept provisions for
European Union membership. But the gathering could be
overshadowed by persistent divisions about the war in Iraq.
This Athens summit was long
intended to be a celebration of European unity, capped by a
ceremony to welcome 10 new members into the European Union.
police officer stands guard in front of the Zappeion
Conference Hall in central Athens
But following months of wrangling between European leaders
over the war in Iraq, that hoped-for party atmosphere has
soured. Instead, as pro-war leaders like British Prime
Minister Tony Blair meet with anti-war advocates like French
President Jacques Chirac, the best that can be hoped for is
what analysts are calling a kiss-and-make-up session.
At worst, bitter divisions could open up once again between
the two camps over the war and the EU role in rebuilding Iraq,
overshadowing what is a crucial meeting in the history of the
The highlight of the summit is Wednesday, when seven
nations from the former Soviet bloc plus Malta, Slovenia, and
the Greek half of partitioned Cyprus will sign an accession
treaty to the European Union. When those states formally join
the European Union in May 2004, the Union's landmass will
stretch from the Atlantic in the west, to the Baltic Sea in
the east, from the Arctic in Sweden to the cusp of the Middle
East in Cyprus.
The European Union will contain more than 450 million
citizens, with another 100 million set to join from Bulgaria,
Romania and Turkey in the next few years.
But the scale of the European Union is itself a cause for
concern among current member states, who are due to discuss a
new European constitution. The charter, which is being drafted
by former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, is the
subject of yet more bitter argument between European leaders.
They are divided on how much power should devolve from
individual nation states to the supranational institutions of
the expanded European Union.
Meanwhile, Greece, which had hoped the ceremony would be
the highlight of its six-month EU presidency, is preparing for
a security nightmare in which legions of anti-war and
anti-globalization protesters are set to confront more than
10,000 police. The center of Athens is to be completely closed
to traffic for much of Wednesday and Thursday and ancient
sites where the ceremonies are taking place are also
off-limits to visitors.
With top-level five-man delegations from 41 countries in
town, the summit is not just being seen as a test of Europe's
powers of recuperation, but also of Greece's security
capabilities, just a year before the Athens Olympic Games.