The 15 EU heads of state and government reached a common position on the issue of Iraq at the extraordinary meeting of the European Council in Brussels on Monday, 17 February 2003. The 13 acceding and candidate countries concurred with the Council’s conclusions. The 13 countries were briefed on Tuesday by the President of the Council, Prime Minister Costas Simitis, jointly with European Commission President Romano Prodi and the EU High Representative for the CFSP Javier Solana.
In statements after the European Council meeting, Simitis stressed that the EU’s position on Iraq is that there should be complete and effective disarmament, in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 1441 and other resolutions. He added that “we want this development to take place peacefully; this is what the European peoples want”. Simitis also underlined that “it is our conviction that the United Nations is the centre of international order”.
Simitis said the decision of the European Council highlighted two points: a) The EU, in the framework of the United Nations, is making every effort for peace, while at the same time war is not inevitable and b) all the Member States have the possibility of securing an important benefit for the EU, namely that “the members of the Union discuss, jointly shape views and aspire to a common stance”. Simitis described the joint position of the ‘15’ as being indicative of their will to press ahead and give content to the common foreign policy.
The current President of the European Council stressed that Iraq should be under no illusion that it can “procrastinate” and that Baghdad must disarm and cooperate both fully and immediately to this end. “The Iraqi regime will be solely responsible if it does not take the necessary measures and fails to take advantage of this possibility,” Simitis said, adding that the UN weapons inspectors must be given the time and the means – as may be decided by the Security Council – to complete their task. He underlined however that the inspections cannot continue indefinitely without the cooperation of Iraq.
Referring to the reasons which led to the convening of the European Council, Simitis said it was the aim of the Greek Presidency to secure a common stance on the part of the European leaders for the coming period, as well as “to respond to the large-scale mobilisations of recent days”. The formulation of a common position was possible, Simitis said, and for this reason the 15 leaders decided to turn the informal meeting of the European Council into an official meeting, in order to issue conclusions.
Speaking briefly at the press conference, European Commission President Romano Prodi congratulated Simitis and the Greek presidency. “We do not forget the millions of our citizens who marched in the streets,” Prodi said, adding, “We say to Saddam Hussein: comply with the UN resolutions or face the consequences”. Addressing the Arab countries, Prodi stressed that terrorism was a common enemy and there was no clash of cultures.
On the Palestinian issue, Prodi reiterated that the aim of the EU was the peaceful coexistence of two states – Israel and Palestine, saying characteristically that “the time has come for action: let us disarm Iraq, let us end the crisis in the Middle East once and for all”.
The EU High Representative for the CFSP, Javier Solana, said what should be underlined was that the EU had a position on a very important problem and that Europe – “both the new, and the not so new” – was united.
Replying to journalists’ questions, Simitis stressed that force should be used only as a last resort. Asked whether the ‘15’ would have reached a common position without the mass demonstrations, Simitis replied that a common position would have been reached but that the demonstrations “provided information which we needed, or at least some of us needed”.
Simitis expressed his conviction not only that the USA would take the EU’s decision into consideration but also that Washington wished to cooperate with Europe.
On Tuesday, 18 February, Simitis, Prodi and Solana jointly briefed the heads of state and government of the 13 acceding and candidate countries. In a joint statement, the ‘13’ concurred with the conclusions of the European Council.