Jenkins hands reins of Europe over to Gaston Thorn

It is a season of change in the European Community. With the accession of Greece on Jan. 1, the Nine will become ten and thus have to make the accommodations that are a necessary part of growth and deepening political complexity.

There will be a new hand at the helm, too. After four years as president of the European Commission (the bureaucratic "motor" in Brussels that provides administrative momentum), Britain's Roy Jenkins is handing over to Gaston Thorn, former premier of the Community's smallest member, Luxembourg.

The Commission president cannot be a political leader in the strict sense: He is not directly elected, and must work for and through the Council of Ministers. But his personal style and diplomatic skill are important in determining whether Europe moves deliberately toward greater unity and solutions to its problems, or drifts in a sea of troubles.

The Ten will face plenty of troubles in the new year, and the presence of Greece at the conference table (with the certainty of Spain and Portugal joining in a year or two) is a comparatively minor one.

As he left the plate-glass Berlaymont Building for the last time, Mr. Jenkins reminded the Community that it must find solutions to problems over financing its own operations, balancing industry and agriculture, and adopting a world posture both muscular and compassionate to the world's poor nations and peoples.

Mr. Thorn has already begun to develop a plan he hopes will be the foundation for major Community restructuring. It focuses on finding new ways of paying for Community activity.

He wants to end farm surpluses without impoverishing European farmers. He is under pressure from the Community's less properous nations (and these of course will include Greece) to inject money into regional development so that new industries can begin to flourish.

At the same time Mr. Thorn hopes to achieve something his predecessor lacked sufficient time for: nurturing the European Parliament, now directly elected by voters within the Community, so that it may more completely share the power and authority of the Council of Ministers and the Commission.

If there is boredom and complacency about the Community among its more than 200 million citizens, it is largely because its actions seem remote, unrepresentative. Mr. Jenkins believed in the European Parliament, and as a staunch Parliamentarian he wanted to give the deputies a bigger say in the affairs of Europe.

It will fall to Mr. Thorn to see whether he can advance the same cause. Here again Greece's membership will encourage him.

Greece is taking its place in Brussels, the trauma of a military dictatorship having been followed by a return to parliamentary democracy.

Greek President Constantine Caramanlis hopes democracy at the European level will strengthen that part of his own country's tradition, and the other leaders appreciate the importance of this.

Mr. Thorn, in his role as Europe's chief diplomat, has a number of advantages. His own country is tiny and is used to battling for its rights against the mighty. He is fluent in the main European languages and is staffing his office with a polyglot band of officials. In the past few months Mr. Thorn has traveled widely, seeking to promote the concept that the European Community is more than the sum of its parts -- that it has a voice that is insistent and must be listened to.

An attempt to create momentum for a distinctive European policy on the Palestinian problem has been one of his leading themes.

Perhaps the hardest goal for Europeans to keep in view is that of seeking to alleviate world poverty by sustaining an outward-looking policy to the developing nations.

Mr. Jenkins can claim much of the credit for ensuring that that theme was not lost sight of during his tenure. His successor will be required by the world beyond Europe to keep it in view.

Here again Greece's membership may be helpful. Among its 9 million people are many who know poverty.

Greece, deep in the Balkans, has learned down the centuries to look least as well as west. The insights of Athens may come in handy to Mr. Thorn as he sets out to come to grips with problems from the perspective of Brussels.

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