THE WORLD FROM...London

Turning from the struggle to save European unity, EC nations find views differ on external crises

IT was a Danish diplomat who pinpointed the European Community's dilemma as the 12 leaders began to look beyond their Dec. 11-12 summit meeting in Edinburgh, the Scottish capital.

"[British Prime Minister] John Major called our gathering a success, and he was right," the diplomat says, savoring Denmark's achievement in securing the exemptions from the Maastricht Treaty on political and economic integration it had been battling for. "But now, with our arguments behind us, we have to address challenges beyond Western Europe."

For more than a year before the Edinburgh summit, the Europeans had been absorbed in internal wrangling. Observers agree that the British prime minister did well to secure agreements on the two most contentious items facing the EC: the Danish opt-out; and a budget which, at a time of Europe-wide recession, would balance the needs of the poorer members against the ability of richer members to pay.

"Edinburgh will be remembered as the European Council that brought the Community together," Mr. Major said. "We can now look outwards, not just to Eastern Europe, but to Somalia and right across the world." Major, however, did not say how Europe would go about addressing the host of problems that for so long had been supplanted by family quarrels.

No sooner had the British prime minister wrapped up the Edinburgh summit than he was reminding the European Parliament in Strasbourg how pressing some of those problems are. Speaking as president of the EC, he said Boris Yeltsin is facing a revolt by hard-line conservatives that threatens democracy and economic reform in Russia. Europe still must resolve its conflict with the United States over farm subsidies and free trade, he said, and compromises on both sides will be required.

The mass movement of refugees across European frontiers remains a threat, Major said, as does the growth of right-wing extremism in Germany, France, and other European states. And there is famine in Africa.

Two days later, still traveling as an EC envoy, Major flew to Washington to see President Bush and talk on the phone to President-elect Clinton about the crisis in Bosnia. "Effective enforcement of a `no fly' zone," a British government source said after the Bush-Major meeting, is "now going to happen."

But already there are signs that the EC's rediscovered enthusiasm for addressing the tough items on its external agenda is coming under strain. The fighting in Bosnia appears the worst threat to EC unity. At a NATO meeting in Brussels British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd stressed the need to approach the crisis in the Balkans with "persuasion and humanitarian aid." But Lawrence Eagleburger, his American counterpart, seemed to contradict him, suggesting that aid convoys could be halted while NATO aircra ft strafed Serbian positions.

British officials claim they have considerable EC support for putting emphasis on aid and playing down the prospect of air strikes in Bosnia. But they concede that Major is keen to cultivate the "special relationship" between London and Washington and establish rapport with the incoming Clinton administration, which may force a tack toward the US view.

France and Germany meanwhile appear divided on strategy in Bosnia, with Paris keener than Bonn on getting tough with the Serbs. In other words, the EC is already having trouble maintaining a united front on what many believe is the most pressing external problem facing its members. Post-Edinburgh, the jury is still out on how long Europe's new-found unity will prevail.

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