The unfinished `cathedral' of modern European unity

Making Sense of Europe, by Christopher Tugendhat. New York: Columbia University Press. 240 pp. $25. By 1992, we keep hearing, the European Community will have taken another big step along the way to becoming the United States of Europe. With the removal of national tariffs and currency-exchange controls and the implementation of a European Community passport, products, money, and people will flow freely throughout the region. Borders, qua borders, will be abolished.

But those who assume that Europe will indeed become one big federation are probably mistaken, Christopher Tugendhat warns. The forces of nationalism and the powers and interests of the nation-state are too strong to be so easily submerged. But that is no reason the European countries and the European union to which they belong should not achieve a relationship that is mutually beneficial.

Tugendhat was appointed to the European Commission in 1977, following a six-year stint as a Conservative member of Britain's Parliament. From 1981 to 1985 he served as vice-president of the European Commission.

A firm believer in the cause of Europe, he is convinced of the economic benefits of European unity and is rather more sensitive than many of his fellow Britons to the emotional power of the idealism that first set the European Community on its stirring, unprecedented course. The close cooperation between two traditional rivals, France and Germany, which cemented the European Community was and still is a symbol of what can be accomplished.

But unity, Tugendhat argues, should be a test of policy rather than an aim. Grandiose expectations and high-flown rhetoric may lead, he fears, to disillusionment and frustration, when the ideal of European unity comes up against the many hard realities that resist it. Short-term planning, limited agreements, ad hoc arrangements, and one-step-at-a-time policymaking should not be dismissed as inadequate but should be seen as stones in the great, unfinished ``cathedral'' of European unity. In place of a European federation, Tugendhat foresees a Europe bound by firmly established habits of intergovernmental cooperation.

Tugendhat's astute analysis of individual events and general trends draws on his own experience as an insider working on the European Commission. With remarkable economy, considerable charm, and a light, almost anecdotal touch, he sketches the attitude of each member nation, from Italy's ``legendary'' goodwill to Greece's penchant for thumbing its nose at the rest. He is a pleasantly conversational stylist who presents his ideas calmly, clearly, and without a hint of jargon or pomposity. While he fails to address some of the questions relating to the long-term wisdom of specific European Community policies, he conveys the general bureaucratic atmosphere very well, and he never loses sight of the larger issues at stake.

The tension between Euro-identity and national identity described in this book continues to show itself. Reacting to a recent comment by the president of the Common Market Commission that 80 percent of European social and economic decisions will be made by the European Community rather than the national parliaments in 10 years' time, Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher scoffed at the idea of a ``United States of Europe'' and asserted the importance of maintaining distinct national identities.

Tugendhat, who obviously shares something of his prime minister's general outlook (although he is not afraid to criticize some of her actions in the course of this book), believes the tension between Europe and its component parts can be a creative force. In the national mottoes of two of the original Community members - Belgium's ``L'union fait la force'' (Union makes strength) and Luxembourg's ``Mir woelle bleiwe wat mir sin'' (We want to remain what we are), he finds the warp and woof for a fabric of Europe, as yet unrealized, but slowly being woven inch by inch, year by year.

Merle Rubin reviews books regularly for the Monitor.

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