The Capitol of Europe

`ALL politics is local,'' goes the old ward-boss adage. To a large degree voters in the 12 members of the European Community are expected to affirm that wisdom in their balloting for delegates to the European Parliament. Five countries held their EC elections last Thursday, and the rest will vote today. In most countries, the results will be determined by national political factors rather than by pan-European issues. Nevertheless, the elections will affect Europe's future and bear watching. Until recently the European Parliament, headquartered in Strasbourg, France, was little else than a forum for international back and forth. Its 518 members had slight legislative power.

The parliament's importance was raised markedly, however, by the Single European Act of 1987, which set in motion the process intended to culminate by 1992 in a unitary European market without internal trade barriers. The act gave the parliament greater power to shape the 1992 rules being hammered out by the European Community's commission and bureaucracy in Brussels. Recently, for instance, the parliamentary deputies stiffened the council's rules on auto emissions, and they're expected to get deeply involved in such matters as food labeling, transportation, the environment, and social policy.

Voters in the member states haven't fully noticed the parliament's enhanced stature, however, or else are preoccupied with local political concerns. Britain's Labour Party aimed to turn the vote into a referendum on the Thatcher government; in Germany the election is being viewed as a test of Chancellor Kohl's declining strength; and Italians regard the vote as a dress rehearsal for their own upcoming parliamentary elections.

So it will be hard for analysts to draw sweeping conclusions from the balloting. Some trends could be notable portents, though, such as the anticipated success of Green candidates in several countries.

1992 will change the European landscape dramatically, and this may be the last European Parliament election that politicians and voters can treat as a sideshow. Some may even wish they'd caught on before this election.

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