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The Leader Post - 5 maggio 1995

5 maggio 1995

di John Best

The Leader Post


SOMMARIO. Ironizza e critica gli atteggiamenti infantili tenuti dal primo ministro canadese, Jean Chretien nei confronti del commissario europeo Leon Brittan, per il suo comportamento e le sue osservazioni in occasione della "guerra del pesce". Deplora il modo come il Canada ha gestito l'intera vicenda, abbandonandosi ad iniziative inadeguate e persino pericolose, che possono creare inutili spaccature tra Canada ed Europa.

OTTAWA - Sulking is not normally a very constructive tool to use in international relations, any more than in personal relations.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien chose to sulk over some candid remarks by Sir Leon Brittan, the European Union's trade commissioner, concerning the aftermath of the recent Canada-EU fisheries dispute. His display of petulance was childish as well as self-defeating.

It is impossible to understand what Chretien hoped to accomplish with his peevish decision to scrub a scheduled meeting with Brittan simply because the commissioner had sounded a warning about the lingering "consequences" of Canada's aggressive actions against Spanish trawlers on the Grand Banks.

But it cannot help but make it harder to heal the breach between Canada and Europe that the high seas dustup caused. And heaven knows the potential for further friction, if not open warfare, was already great enough.

Chretien's action smacks of the same kind of arrogance and grandstanding that has characterized Canada's entire handling, or mishandling, of the quarrel with the EU.

It also suggests that he and his government have yet to come to grips with the fateful significance of Canada's flouting of international law in seizing a Spanish boat in international waters a couple of months ago, and cutting the nets of a second boat.

Where that precedent will lead, in terms or managing future maritime fishing disputes, is hard to foresee. But the repercussions are not likely to be pretty.

What got Chretien's dander up were passages in a speech Brittan made to a private Ottawa luncheon, suggesting that the confrontation over Greenland halibut will have continuing repercussions even outside the fisheries sector - notwithstanding the interim agreement patched together in Brussels last month. "Many in the EU were shocked by Canada's disregard of international law and by its apparent willingness to resort to gunboat diplomacy."

Canada must realize that it will take time and effort to get relations back to normal, and that the quarrel will inevitably "reduce European enthusiasm for any further opening up to Canada for the time being".

That was a very important message, especially in the context of Chretien's own proposal - admittedly, thus far vague - for a North America-Europe free trade zone.

You might have thought that Chretien would want to hear more from Brittan, personally about the Briton's dire assessment of the fallout from the halibut quarrel - and maybe give him a piece of Canada's mind in the process. Instead, he chose to go into a snit a juvenile and wholly counterproductive response.

Canada's ever-talkative fisheries minister, Brian Tobin, added to the stupidity by drawing a phony and gratuitous link between the fisheries dispute and the role played by Canadian troops in liberating Europe in the Second World War. Brittan, Tobin told the Commons on Wednesday, should be offering Canada "thanks, not complaints".

Such a bush-league comment would be laughable if it were not so embarrassing.

While some Ottawa officials purported to believe that Brittan's comments were "unacceptable" and went too far, others sought to play them down, suggesting that they were intended more for European consumption than Canadian.

The latter response is as far off base as the former. My reading is that the Europeans are genuinely concerned about the real and potential consequences of the high handed way Canada conducted itself in the fish mini-war.

They are sore oil account of the divisions Canada caused within the EU, and then exploited at a sensitive, formative period in the union's development. They are equally concerned, as Canada should be, about the mayhem that could take place on the oceans if every nation took the law into its own hands to settle its fisheries quarrels with other nations.

Foreign Minister Andre Ouellet, trying to calm the Brittan Chretien tempest, put out a statement saying Canada and Europe should get on with building their relationship and not waste time on "recriminations'. A noble thought. A little statesmanship on the prime minister's part might also help.

(Best is an Ottawa columnist writing mainly on national defence and foreign affairs).

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