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Western Europe Without the Wall

By Pat M. HoltPat M. Holt, former chief of staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, writes from Washington. / November 5, 1992



THIS week marks the third anniversary of the razing of the Berlin Wall, as good an event as any from which to date the breakup of the Soviet Empire. It was clear at the time that this would have repercussions far beyond the Iron Curtain which it reduced to ruins and rust. What was not clear, but what we can now begin to discern, was the size and shape of these repercussions.

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There are centrifugal forces at work in the West as well as in the East. The future of the movement to build a European Community, which had proceeded without significant interruption for almost 40 years, has been challenged. Voters in Denmark rejected the Treaty of Maastricht, the latest political effort to push European integration forward. Voters in France approved it by such a narrow margin as to call its viability into questions. Raging controversy about it cuts across party lines in Great Britain.

Nationalist and ethnic passions have reasserted themselves, most notably and bloodily in what remains of Yugoslavia, but in other countries as well. In Germany, racist ruffians vent their frustrations in violence against foreigners in a scary reminder of the 1930s. Similar - but so far, at least, less violent - elements exist in France.

This is a reaction to immigration, a problem that can only get worse. No country can be proud of its response to the need for refugee relief produced by the carnage in Yugoslavia. But larger numbers and ultimately greater pressures are produced by population growth in the third world. North Africans flood across the Mediterranean into Europe; more immigrants can be expected shortly to make the longer journey from Asia.

On the streets and in the shops of London, one is struck by the larger number of blacks and Asians as compared to only a few years ago. The British people generally have a high degree of self-discipline and tolerance, but they, too, have anti-foreign racists. All over Europe these tensions are aggravated by the stresses that come with a bad economy.

The unification of Germany has proven to be both more expensive and more complicated than was anticipated in the euphoria that it generated. The expense has fallen on the West Germans to pay, the complications on the East Germans to endure. A part of the West German response has been a conservative, anti-inflationary monetary policy that the rest of Europe sees as hindering economic recovery.

The British and Germans have been throwing barbs at each other over who is responsible for the decline of the pound sterling in international monetary markets. Both governments have domestic political problems, and in addition the British have some wounded national pride.

There has been backbiting between the political leaders of Europe and the bureaucrats who run the institutions of the EC. The politicians assert their authority over appointed civil servants so as to reassure the public that European integration will not outrun its political mandate. But the civil servants complain that the politicians are in fact welshing on the mandate.

IN NATO, there is the scrambling of bureaucrats to find new work when their jobs have been made obsolete. The result is an agreement, sanctioned by defense ministers, to convert NATO into a European peacekeeping force. That might not be a thoroughly bad idea, but peacekeeping would be better done by a beefed up, revitalized United Nations. There are a great many peacekeeping chores outside of Europe where third-world sensitivity about former colonial powers makes NATO an inappropriate instrument.

It is too much to attribute all these troubles and distractions to the Soviet collapse. Historically, the Europeans have provided many demonstrations that they are capable of messing up their affairs without any outside assistance. But certainly the reunification of Germany stems from the Soviet breakup. German reunification ultimately will be advantageous to Europe; but in the short run it is more difficult than was anticipated. Turmoil in Eastern Europe is producing refugees in the West, but the West w ould have an immigration problem if the Iron Curtain were still intact.

In a deeper sense, however, the Soviet collapse may have more to do with the West's current problems than appears on the surface. The movement for European integration was in part a response to the fratricide which afflicted Europe in the two World Wars. But the movement received powerful political impetus from the need to counter the Soviet threat. The threat is not there any more and neither is the impetus that it generated.

Yet the case for European unity remains as strong as ever. Where is the statesman who can make the case without scaring people half to death?