A market worth keeping

As the European Common Market puffs into its second quarter century, it might recall the old line its cousins across the Atlantic have been handing themselves lately: when the going gets tough, the tough get going. If a single strong country like the United States needs extra efforts to pull together these days, it should be no surprise that 10 sovereign nations do.

The market has jointly overcome obstacles in the past -- even including General de Gaulle's boycott -- and it can weather the current divisive economic challenges, too. The guidelines are all there in the Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community on March 25, 1957. What is demanded is a resurgence of the political will and leadership to look beyond wranglings over who should give how much to the community's budget -- and address today's necessities according to Common Market principles.

That de Gaulle boycott of the '60s was followed by an agreement which in effect allowed a country to veto any proposal it wanted to. Perhaps a return to majority rule in such instances would enable more progressive steps to be taken in line with such treaty requirements as free trade, free competition, and common policy in support of agriculture. But whatever the mechanism the enforcement and implementation of policies demand strengthening.

This is especially true now that relatively hard economic times are tempting member countries back toward protectionism and nationalistic self-seeking. Perhaps the very success of the agricultural subsidy programs -- along with new needs for support of industry -- suggests a rethinking of the mix in Common Market policies. But the mutuality of the enterprise need not be abandoned. Here is where politics can be used constructively rather than destructively.

While the decisionmaking power lies in executive bodies, it should not be forgotten that there is now a popular vote input through elections to the European Parliament. Its options are limited, but it can have some influence through its consultative role. This should not be neglected if Europeans want to nudge their community leadership toward more unified action rather than less.

To lose this spirit would be sad. To restore it would offer encouragement to other cooperative arrangements in a shrinking world where going it alone is falling out of date.

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