US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice has been in Lithuania addressing a meeting of Nato foreign ministers on a wide range of subjects. But, at a press conference at the Forum Palace in Vilnius, yesterday, she was asked by a reporter from The Financial Times whether she perceived "a risk of Europe stalling" in the context of the EU constitution being rejected by France.
"We're obviously not members of the European Union," she replied, "we're not a part of this debate, individual countries have to make their choices". She then went on to say: "…but we have been very supportive of the European project, of its completion, of the European Union."
She claimed to have "developed a good partnership with the European Community - European Union - and the commission and all of the structures of the European Union", on which basis, "from our point of view, the continued success of the European construction is important."
"I would just note," she added, "that the European Union has been an important drawing card, an important incentive for democratisation and reform in a number of countries in Central and Eastern Europe, as they've emerged as democracies. It's also - continues to be, I think, an important set of incentives as we try to resolve the last remaining conflicts, for instance, in the Balkans."
Thus, she said, "it has been an important force for stability and for progress in this theatre and a force for good and for the promotion of democratic principles abroad."
This was, of course, very much what the "Europeans" wanted to hear and, while she sidestepped the very specific question of whether the US supported the constitution, those who so wish could easily infer US support from secretary Rice's comments.
In the febrile atmosphere of the French referendum campaign, one wonders if this is not a poison pill. Express US support could do nothing other than strengthen the "no" vote. In all utterences of the US State Department – as in diplomacy generally – you have to wonder what the real agenda is. In the style of Humpty dumpty, words never seem to mean exactly what they say, but what the author means them to say.