Zapatero: the new Pied Piper of Hamelin

Article published on April 14, 2004
community published
Article published on April 14, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Zapatero and his 11 million voters have inspired a new approach in the EU. Italy and Poland could follow Spain. Will "Zapaterites" spread across Europe?

One of the fundamental elements of the Spanish socialist electoral programme was changing foreign policy. The submission by Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's Government to the American administration, Spain?s active participation in the occupation of Iraq, and its confrontational European policy were things that had to change.

It was precisely through these foreign policy proposals, and especially concerning the occupation of Iraq, that Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero?s Socialist Party emerged victorious, by amassing the support of undecided voters and the valuable vote of the left. Zapatero?s determination to keep his electoral promises has unleashed a whole series of unprecedented events occurring even before the change of government on April 16th.

The Zapatero effect

In a single week, Aznar?s submission to the American administration has been transformed into an atmosphere of equality, as the interview between US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Zapatero on Wednesday March 24th, the day of the state funerals for the victims of March 11th, demonstrated. Powell showed himself ready to discuss the role that the United Nation must play in Iraq. On the same day, Zapatero spoke for the first time to French President, Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Polish counterpart Lesnek Miller.

Poland, the main European ally of the Aznar Government and supporter of the Iraq war, is obviously concerned about the withdrawal of Spanish troops (Polish troops were supposed to give command of a zone in the south of Iraq back to Spain in July). President Aleksander Kwasniewski has not lost any time in claiming that he would not move towards Iraq and that Poland is ready to withdraw while, on the other hand, assuring the American administration that his troops will remain as long as is necessary. Hypocrisy to try to save face, both inside and outside Poland.

Tony Blair is witnessing the fall of part of the Acores house of cards and the approach of an abrupt change in the international landscape. Blair is already pleading for the UN to vote for a resolution legalising, in one form or another, the occupation of Iraq. Anything so long as Spanish troops don?t abandon Iraq and bring other countries, like Poland and Italy, in their wake.

As for Italy, problems are mounting for President Berlusconi. Not only was he unable to unite Europe under the Italian Presidency of the EU. His position of supporting the occupation of Iraq is also causing him to be rejected by his fellow citizens. Two out of three Italians are against Italy?s participation in the Iraqi conflict and support the withdrawal of their troops. It is therefore not surprising that Romani Prodi (current President of the European Commission and future head of the Italian opposition party) is now claiming that he will bring the troops back from Iraq if he wins the next election. Popular Italian rejection could turn into a vote of punishment for Berlusconi and could make Prodi Italy?s Zapatero.

It is not surprising that Chirac and Schroeder are considering Zapatero?s arrival in international politics with optimism, as the embrace the German Chancellor exchanged with the future socialist President during a meeting which took place on the day of the national funerals in Spain demonstrated. France and Germany are beginning to count on a powerful ally again who is shaking off American influence and making a strong and united Europe possible again.

Are they all cowards?

But these uncoordinated changes and the 11th March attacks have another side. The withdrawal of troops could be interpreted as an act of selfishness and cowardice, giving in to terrorist demands to avoid being a target of Islamic terrorism. Faced with the danger of presenting this image to the world, Zapatero claims that he will not bring the troops home if the UN takes the reins in the transition process in Iraq. If the opposite is true, he will send these same troops to Afghanistan where Spanish participation would be justified. In this way, his position on the war on terror would remain clear.

The heads of state of the 25 countries which will form the European Union from May 1st completed the European spring summit at the end of March by appealing to the UN to assume an autonomous and more important role in the transition period in Iraq. The Zapatero effect has thus revived the necessity of legalising the current, illegitimate occupation, an even more pressing requirement given the current Shiite revolt.

In one form or another, it would seem obvious that the presence of Zapatero on the international landscape and the electoral promises that he is obliged to keep make reconsideration of the current situation in Iraq necessary. A reconsideration which, little by little, is accepted by all the countries involved in the occupation. The USA-led strategy of preventative attack in the war against terror does not seem to be the most effective. Especially taking into account what happened on March 11th in Madrid.