In the past few years, the Trio met to the sounds of bombing in Iraq as a united group that condemned the war and worried over America's disdain for international law. In this sense, the addition of Spain looks logical. The coming to power of a new Social-Democratic government radically changed Madrid's attitude to the Iraq war, promoted the pullout of Spanish troops, and paved Mr. Zapatero's way to the European Trio.
Some people think the informal club is anti-American, but they would be better advised to note the three leaders' desire to reconstruct the global balance that has been disrupted by the egoistic broad use of military might by the United States. Old Europe is alarmed by George Bush's messianic doctrine and would like to join forces with Russia to search for a political counterbalance to the U.S. global ambitions.
The background for the four-party summit in Paris will differ from the situation in which previous three-party meetings were held. The four leaders' criticism of the Iraq war (and U.S. conduct in the world at large) has been confirmed by the events of the past months. Despite the publicized success of the Iraqi election, the U.S. is bogged down there and the withdrawal of its 150,000 troops has been put off for an indefinite time. None of the four European leaders, including Vladimir Putin, can imagine Bush spending his second term on one more military adventure. It is one thing to threaten Syria and Iran, but a completely different to send troops there.
The declining status of a "hyperpower," as French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine once described America, seems to be changing the partnership of Europe and the U.S., turning it from Atlantic (read: universal) into selective, where the interests of the sides clash increasingly often. Disregarding Washington's protests, the EU plans to lift the arms embargo imposed on China after Tienanmen Square. The U.S. is also outraged by European plans to create a system of European security outside NATO, the ratification by many European countries (including Russia) of the Kyoto protocol, and the resistance of many European capitals to Washington's attempt to undermine the authority of the International Criminal Court.
As a result, the idea of Paris, Berlin and Moscow to create a constructive counterbalance to the largely arrogant foreign policy of the U.S. that rests on military might, an idea which Madrid seems to have accepted, is gradually becoming reality.
However, counterbalance does not mean anti-Americanism. Just as democracy works better when there is a healthy opposition, so the U.S. may find positive elements for harmonizing its foreign policy in the alternative centers of world power - if the latter take a clearer form.
The agenda of the four-party working meeting in Paris is broad and will largely depend on improvisation. The possible issues include the role of the UN in the modern world, Iraq and the Middle East, and the nuclear problems of Iran and North Korea.
Putin plans to raise the issue of developing Russia's relations with the EU and to hold bilateral talks with Chirac after the summit.
Moreover, the Italian premier will inevitably influence the four leaders' discussion of Iraq. Silvio Berlusconi's announcement that the 3,000-strong Italian group would start to withdraw from Iraq in September confirms the thoughts of a growing number of Anglo-American coalition members: The domestic price of loyalty to the U.S. in Iraq is becoming intolerably high. Spain, the Netherlands, Poland, Ukraine and several other countries have refused to pay any more. They have announced they will pull their troops out or have already started the withdrawal process.
Berlusconi's decision, made with due regard for the 2006 parliamentary election, will be a serious blow to Bush's attempt to divide responsibility for the Iraqi campaign. It also confirms the growing feeling of independence, if not opposition to Washington, in Greater Europe.
America knows what this can lead to. And the four leaders in Paris will most probably note with satisfaction Washington's recent U-turn on Iran's nuclear program. For months Moscow, Paris and Berlin have sought to secure a diplomatic solution to the problem, whereas the U.S. continued to threaten Iran with a repetition of Iraq. Washington changed tactics right after Bush's recent European tour. Displaying unexpected generosity, it has offered Iran economic benefits in return for abandoning its alleged nuclear weapons program. One of the benefits is a real gift - it is a pledge not to protest against Iran's accession to the WTO, which the U.S. has been preventing for a decade.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says Washington wants to support the Europeans and not to benefit the Iranians. In reality, it was the common stand of the Europeans, including Russia, that forced Washington to drop the stick and take up the carrot in relations with Iran. One would like to view this as a good sign. Bush's foreign policy team, led by his new secretary of state, is becoming aware of the need to act jointly with Greater Europe (including Russia) in critical situations. These rules of conduct suit the new world that has developed after the Iraq war, which was not very successful for America.
Putin is also in Paris to discuss Russia's relations with the EU, which are mostly impressive. The parties say they are to develop the so-called four common spaces in the economy, domestic and external security, science and culture. But the events in Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova spotlighted the European trend of supporting political forces in the former Soviet republics depending on the distance they put between themselves and Russia. In reality, the bureaucrats in Brussels are facing Tbilisi, Kiev and Chisinau with a false choice between the West (meaning the EU and NATO) and Russia.
Vladimir Putin cannot accept this attitude, and it seems that this does not suit France, Germany and other Old European countries either. They reject Russophobic sentiments brought to the enlarged EU by such new members as Poland and the Baltic countries. The summit in Paris will show if Old Europe is ready to stop this unproductive anti-Russian trend. In this year of the 60th anniversary of victory over Nazism, the attempts by Brussels bureaucrats and radical newcomers to the EU to create new division lines in Europe look like an archaism and sacrilege.