Chirac lashes out at 'new Europe'
BRUSSELS, Belgium -- French President Jacques Chirac has attacked eastern European countries hoping to join the EU, saying they missed a great opportunity to "shut up" when they signed letters backing the U.S. position on Iraq.
France has been a leading voice against Washington's press for war in Iraq to disarm President Saddam Hussein and is insisting weapons inspectors in the country be given more time.
But 13 countries either set to join the EU or in membership talks have signed letters supporting the United States.
Chirac said: "These countries have been not very well behaved and rather reckless of the danger of aligning themselves too rapidly with the American position."
"It is not really responsible behavior. It is not well brought-up behavior. They missed a good opportunity to keep quiet."
"I felt they acted frivolously because entry into the European Union implies a minimum of understanding for the others," Chirac said.
Chirac called the letters "infantile" and "dangerous," adding: "They missed a great opportunity to shut up."
Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, all of whom have dates for EU membership, joined EU members Britain, Spain, Italy, Denmark and Portugal in signing a letter last month supporting Washington's stance on Iraq.
Ten other eastern European nations -- eight with entry dates and Romania and Bulgaria who are still in membership discussions -- signed a similar letter a few days later.
"Romania and Bulgaria were particularly irresponsible. If they wanted to diminish their chances of joining Europe they could not have found a better way," Chirac said.
When asked why he wasn't similarly critical of the EU nations that signed the letter, Chirac said: "When you are in the family ... you have more rights than when you are asking to join and knocking on the door."
CNN European Political Editor Robin Oakley described Chirac's outburst as "pretty grumpy and imperious."
"For him to lecture these applicant countries or these accepted members on their way in was really behavior like the worst of what the French complain about in the United States," Oakley said.
"It was bullying really. ... It was very, very tough stuff. I think some of the other EU leaders will feel it was out of order.
"But perhaps it shows just how much Jacques Chirac was stunned by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's differentiation between what he calls 'old Europe' and 'new Europe.'"
Rumsfeld angered France and Germany when he referred to them as 'old Europe' -- in contrast to the easterners seeking to join the EU and NATO -- in response to Paris and Berlin's stance against any possible war in Iraq.
Chirac's words have angered some of those aspirant nations with Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondr saying it appeared Chirac was trying to bully them.
And Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld told public radio: "France has a right to its opinion and Poland has the right to decide what is good for it. France should respect that."
European Commission President Romano Prodi said he was saddened rather than angry with the candidates because their pro-Americanism was a signal they had failed to understand that the EU is more than a mere economic union.
"I would be lying it I said I was happy," he told reporters. "I have been very, very sad, but I am also patient by nature, so I hope they will understand that sharing the future means sharing the future."
The EU decided last December to admit 10 new members to the 15-nation bloc.
The parliaments of the current EU members still have to ratify the decision that will see Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Cyprus and Malta join in May 2004.
On Tuesday, leaders of the EU aspirants traveled to Brussels for a briefing on Iraq and endorsed Monday night's joint declaration by EU leaders. (Full story)
The candidates were upset over not being invited to Brussels for Monday's emergency summit on Iraq.
Britain and Spain had sought to have the candidates invited to Monday's summit, but France and Germany opposed the idea.
Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, denied they had been excluded from the summit because of their backing for Washington, insisting rules require the accession treaties be signed first.