Brussels — Just how difficult South Africa's task of readjustment to sanctions will be depends to a large extent on the governments in Western Europe. Later this month (Oct. 27-28), foreign ministers from the 12 European Community countries will meet in Luxembourg to discuss ways of further tightening the screws on the South African government. The EC has already agreed to halt imports of iron, steel, and gold coins and to ban new investments by community firms in the white-ruled republic. The recent adoption of sanctions by the United States could serve as a spur to further action.
But most observers here believe that the EC has already gone as far as it can go -- at least for the time being.
Pretoria's circumvention of some US sanctions is facilitated by an EC decision last June ruling out a policy to halt air service between South Africa and Western Europe. Measures adopted by the US Senate included a cut in direct air links between South Africa and the US. But within hours, a spokesman for South African Airways was confidently proclaiming that the airline would be laying on extra flights to several cities in Western Europe, where passengers could catch connecting flights to the US.
At this month's meeting, EC ministers will come under stiff pressure from several European countries -- especially the Netherlands and Denmark -- to do more. ``The outside world,'' said Danish Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, ``can and must give nonviolent backing to the pressure of economic sanctions.''
Despite the added spark of US sanctions to antiapartheid fire, EC adoption of further sanctions against Pretoria is not a foregone conclusion. Ministers from the European countries continue to wrestle with worries of the effect -- and effectiveness -- of their actions.
Critics have dismissed the EC measures as largely symbolic, noting that they will affect exports from South Africa worth ``only'' about $566 million a year. The US decision, by comparison, will hit annual South African exports valued at about $710 million.
Several EC countries, notably West Germany and Britain, have reiterated their opposition to widening EC sanctions to include an import ban on South African coal -- a move which would cost Pretoria another $1.2 billion a year.
Halting air service between South Africa and Western Europe and banning imports of South African agricultural products and uranium were virtually ruled out by EC leaders in June.