Clinton endorses EU eastward extension

Fifty years after the Marshall Plan, US pledges support but not cash

Invoking the spirit of the Marshall Plan, the massive United States aid programme for post-war Europe, Bill Clinton yesterday called for a new drive to secure a united Europe with swift enlargement to the east.

Speaking in the Hague, at a ceremony to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Marshall plan, the US President said: "We have a second chance to complete the job that Marshall and his generation began."

Mr Clinton also used the occasion to endorse the European Union's latest moves towards deeper integration, saying that integration was "good for Europe, for the US and therefore for the world".

Coming just two months before the EU launches the first stage of eastwards enlargement, by pronouncing on the readiness of would-be member states to join, Mr Clinton's words will be taken as strong encouragement by eastern and central European states. However, the day-long celebrations were marked by elaborate symbolism and visions of grand design, rather than substance or pledges of Marshall-style money.

Mr Clinton said: "We cannot simply say to the countries of central and eastern Europe we want you to develop democracy and economic prosperity - and good luck." But he also stressed that European aid to eastern Europe must come from further private investment, and political support in building democracy.

Wim Kok, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, which holds the EU presidency, said as much as $100bn could be needed simply to build the infrastructure in prospective eastern European members in readiness for union. He proposed a Euro-Atlantic conference later this year to promote ways of channelling private funds towards such projects. "It is only because of the sheer magnitude of these needs, that most of the money will have to come from pri- vate investment," Mr Kok said.

The gathering at The Hague came the day after the US President and other European leaders had joined in equally momentous speech-making at the signing of a new security pact between Nato and Russia in Paris. Picking up the Paris themes of partnership and unity, they yesterday asserted that what the Nato-Russia pact had achieved for security, they were determined to achieve now on an economic level.

Much was said about "summoning the spirit of the Marshall plan", and Mr Clinton, in particular, emphasised how the European Union institutions of today had in many ways sprung from way the Marshall programme encouraged European countries to co-operate.

In the evening Mr Clinton unveiled a statue of General George Marshall in Rotterdam, the Dutch city flattened during the war and rebuilt into the world's busiest port with the help of Marshall funds.

"The Marshall Plan offered a cure not a crutch. It was never a hand-out, it was always a hand up ... The European nations grabbed that lifeline, cooperating as never before with a common programme of recovery," he said.

Asked whether his support for continued European integration extended to backing economic and monetary union, Mr Clinton again invoked the Marshall approach, by saying it was up to Europeans to further their integration. "The United States does give clear support to integration - we are not only not threatened by it, we are excited by it and support it. But it is up to you to do it and with your own timetable," he said.

President Clinton and Europe's leaders, who avoided mention of current EU-US trade disputes and signed instead new small-scale trade agreements, spoke of the need to maintain strong US-EU ties.

"Today I affirm to the people of Europe - as George Marshall did - America stands with you. We have learned the lessons of history. We will not walk away."

However, Mr Clinton's emphasis on the US bequest to Europe of peace and prosperity may well have caused irritation in some capitals, particular Paris, where trans-Atlanticism is not always a favourite theme. Jacques Chirac, the French President, was absent from yesterday's ceremony, no doubt pre-occupied by the elections.

Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, also stayed away, sending John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister in his place. Mr Blair will have his own private meetings with Mr Clinton in London which the latter visits today.

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