Guido Brunner: the EC's 'shadow foreign minister'
Brussels — "You don't push the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan through cutting commercial relations between the Soviets and the European Community," EC commissioner Guido Brunner said.
"Not a single tank leaves," he added in a Monitor interview that focused on challenges facing the Common Market and the West as a whole.
The man some here refer to as the EC's "shadow foreign minister" stressed that "regardless of the confrontation in Afghanistan, Europe's role has to be to develop a policy which keeps the door open for a change in the general policy of the Soviet Union."
Dr. Brunner spoke as one of the 13 members of the Common Market commission. The commission draws up EC policies and administers them once they have been accepted by the nine member governments.
His 13th-floor office in Brussels' massive Berlaymont Building appropriately overlooks the Charlemagne Building where the national governments send their Cabinet ministers to meet as the EC Council of Ministers. There, under the commission's gaze, the council makes the final ruling on the commission's policy proposals.
Dr. Brunner, a West German nominee to the four-year post, has been a commissioner since 1974 -- and so has seen national governments, ministers, and policies change. Over these years the Common Market has steadily strengthened itself, particularly since the European Parliament became democratically elected from the whole of the EC for the first time last June.
The present commission, led by Roy Jenkins of England, winds up its term of office at the end of this year. But until then, the commission can -- and often very forcefully does -- speak for the EC as a whole.
Doing just that, Dr. Brunner explained that "Europe cannot fight this increase of tensions in Asia and support the restoration of an equilibrium through increasing tensions in Europe." He said it would be easy to respond to US pressure to cut trade with the Soviets.
But he feels such action would harm the West as a whole and cancel out long years of delicately building better East-West relations. "It would take 10 or 15 years to restore these relations," he said, "relations which are not only commercial, but human relations."
Dr. Brunner stressed the urgent need for action on energy issues, part of his particular brief as commissioner for energy, research, science, and education.
As in the case of Afghanistan, he views energy in terms of Western security interests.
Top priority must go to developing alternative energy sources and freeing Europe from its overall 53 percent dependence on imported energy -- or over 80 percent dependence in terms of oil alone, according to the commissioner, who began the interview by switching off his office lights.
Dr. Brunner said 1979 was "a good energy- policy year for Europe," and listed significant steps made in monitoring European energy use, setting import and consumption targets, and funding the development of new sources such as nuclear power and coal liquefaction.
But he said there must be a "European solidarity pact," funder perhaps by a tax on oil imports, to increase investment in alternative energy sources immediately. Otherwise, he feels Europe will be caught in another 1973- style oil squeeze and be forced into reacting to a crisis it could have avoided.
There is a clash between the need for urgent action over energy and the Common Market's reputation for "moving glacially" because of its still relatively new and uncertain balance between the commission, the Council of Ministers, and the European Parliament.
Dr. Brunner recognizes the problem: "Nothing works in the community in one go , and I probably will be beaten several times before any new policies go through."
Yet he is confident that Europe will have a unified energy policy soon: "The question is whether we are ready when OPEC raises its prices."
He is calm when faced by what he sees as a major threat on the oil front and by colleagues who are cynical about the EC's ability to do anything quickly. This calmness may come from his background. As an economist and lawyer, he came to the Common Market after 20 years in the West German Foreign Ministry.
As a foreign-affairs officer he worked inside a complex government bureaucracy. As an international negotiator, he mediated between rival national bureaucracies, as when in 1972 he became head of the West German delegation to the conference for security and cooperation in Europe, held in Helsinki and Geneva.
Others dash around the two immense suspended arcs of the EC's Berlaymont Building calling for drastic changes in the community's structures and policies. But Commissioner Brunner is confident the present machinery will grind out answers to the energy threat, Afghanistan, and other questions.