'Europe on the Brink'; Iraq. EU Expansion. Transatlantic Rift. Romano Prodi Has Been in the Midst of It. His Hopes and Fears for the Future

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Byline: Christopher Dickey

Romano Prodi has been president of the European Commission for five years. The former Italian prime minister has overseen the introduction of Europe's single currency, the euro, and most recently presided over the expansion of the Union to include 10 new members. But he's also seen the shock waves from Iraq turn the Atlantic divide into a yawning chasm. In November he will step down and return to Italy as the main political challenger to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. In Brussels, he spoke with NEWSWEEK's Christopher Dickey:

DICKEY: Iraq. Americans want to know whether Europe is with them or against them.

PRODI: Let's not start with Iraq. Let's talk about why Americans are not much interested in Europe. Look at how European countries are being transformed by enlargement. This is what the Americans wanted only a few years ago, and now they seem indifferent. Why?

The Iraq crisis strikes Americans as a lot more urgent.

Iraq is not everything. Europe is with the United States, even if the majority of public opinion is against the war in Iraq. I opposed the war because I was afraid, correctly, that it would worsen the international situation and endanger security. But at the same time, we worked hard to take common actions against terrorism.

But Iraq is a watershed.

No, it's not. It's a case in which we think differently. We have another 99 issues on which we work together. For instance, we've never been so close on the Doha agenda for world trade. And this is vital.

For all that, how would you assess the damage from the past two years?

The divide between Western countries and the Islamic world is my greatest fear. For years I've worked to develop policies that bring them together. But this war is making everything so difficult. Especially after the episode of the tortures. Ah!

So, what can Europe do?

Our job is to push for the United Nations to take action very quickly. The idea would be to get moderate Arab nations involved--to give a clear message that there is a change. Beyond that, the only alternative to American policy has to be offered by America.

You're waiting for the November elections?

No, action must be taken before that. …