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'Old Europe' hits back at Rumsfeld

The leaders of France and Germany marked 40 years of partnership this week with President Chirac saying they had the
The leaders of France and Germany marked 40 years of partnership this week with President Chirac saying they had the "same view" on Iraq.

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BERLIN, Germany -- German and French politicians and media across the political spectrum have hit back angrily at U.S. criticism that the two countries belonged to "old Europe" and were isolated in their opposition to war in Iraq.

"I find this comment on 'old Europe' deeply irritating. Old Europe is resilient and capable of bouncing back," French Finance Minister Francis Mer said.

"Cool down," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer shot back at comments by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "We are good friends and allies."

Rumsfeld angered France and Germany by saying they were not representative of a "New Europe" that includes former Soviet bloc countries. "You're thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don't. I think that's old Europe," Rumsfeld told reporters.

On Friday Rumsfeld's comments had unusually brought unity among French and German politicians of left and right together with the two countries' newspapers, from the German tabloids to the French heavyweights.

Commentator Christian Malard of France-3 TV told CNN that President Jacques Chirac was "a little bit shocked" by Rumsfeld's comments but considers the U.S. a friend and was trying to play down the row.

Even the strongest advocates of U.S. policy in Berlin and Paris were annoyed, including Germany's mass circulation Bild daily, traditionally a vocal supporter of the United States.

"Mister Rumsfeld, hundreds of thousands of your G.I.s fell for 'old Europe' because they freed us from the tyranny of Hitler. You are sinning against your own heroes by disparaging 'old Europe.' Your G.I.s died for the ideals of your place of origin," Reuters translated Bild's editorial as saying.

France's left-wing Liberation newspaper underlined Mer and other French ministers' comments with the headline: "Old Europe kicks back."

French media quoted French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie as saying: "We are no longer in prehistoric times when whoever had the biggest club would try to knock the other guy out so he could steal his mammoth skin."

Both Chirac and French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin appealed for calm and urged ministers not to make any further loaded comments, Liberation said.

"Any confrontation, such as a verbal one with the United States, would be harmful for everybody," said Alain Juppe, president of Chirac's UMP party.

Germany's left-wing Tageszeitung suggested the U.S. should follow the example of Russia and China in its approach to Iraq.

"Rumsfeld has a problem with age. The U.S. defence minister calls France and Germany 'old', the rest of Europe 'young' and wants a quick war with Iraq. Nuclear powers like China and Russia favour more level-headedness," Tageszeitung said.

"Does Washington want to risk a rift in the North Atlantic alliance over Iraq, which could lead to a division of Europe into countries that follow 'modern' America and an 'old' and 'problematic' faction that no longer wants to?" the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung asked.

"The importance of Rumsfeld's foolish comments -- he might as well have extended the 'Axis of Evil' -- should not be exaggerated," it said.

Le Parisien had "Escalation" as its front page headline and noted 76 percent of French people -- compared with 66 percent at the start of January -- are now against a war in Iraq.

The age issue also featured in the Parisien's cartoon, which showed Chirac and Schroeder arriving at a U.S. conscription desk holding a "No to War" banner, to which a stern-faced Rumsfeld, with Bush standing behind him, yells "Too old! Discharged!"

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