Europe gives Reagan a mixed 'report card'
Maastricht, the Netherlands — A mixed "report card" on the Reagan administration. That is what emerged here as the leaders of Europe gathered in this ancient fortresstown where West Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium meet and where Charlemagne once held sway.
The report card was not as negative as recent headlines in the United States and West European press would indicate -- even though Reagan's tough words to Moscow have caused concern. So have doubts expressed by senior administration officials about West Europe's reliability as an ally. Difficult issues clearly lie ahead.
But, overall, the report card reads:
* So far so good. Europe is glad to see the last of Jimmy Carter, and pleased at what it believes to be the realistic, consistent pragmatism of Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. -- so much so that the European honeymoon with Mr. Reagan still seems intact, for the moment at least.
In an interview in his enourmous office on the top floor of the European Commissions's glass ofice building in Brussels, European Community budget commissioner Christopher Tugendhat from Britain said: "There is certainly a 'prejuge favorable' [favorable disposition] toward Mr. Reagan here."
Mr. Tugendhat is one of the 14 commissioners who run the EC's daily affairs.
* Deep concerns remain in Europe about how far the US might ask Europe to go in denouncing Moscow. In conversation after conversation, Europeans insist that tough US military moves must be accompanied by adroit talks with Moscow on disarmament.
* Europeans are devided on what might come after the honeymoon period. Some Brussels insiders reject the conventional wisdom in the press and say that Mr. Haig in particular has laid the basis for a closer alliance with Europe than the press has yet realized. They add that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Soviet threats to Poland make many Europeans more ready to accept a tougher US stance.
Other sources voice the more conventional view that the problems and differences ahead on defense spending, disarmament, the Middle East, El Salvador , and South Africa will overwhelm the good start made so far.
Europeans optimistic about Reagan and Haig say that by calling a NATO consultative group meeting in Brussels for the end of March, Mr. Haig has signaled the start of an arms talks process that will lead to US contacts with Moscow and, in time, to higher level and possibly even summit talks.
They say US consultation with Britain, West Germany, France, and Italy have been welcome.
And they say that the US is at last showing the way by trying to boost its own defense budget before coming to Europe to ask for more NATO spending.
"These points are the foundation of the alliance," says one senior European diplomat here. "If they go right, the other conflicts could be just window dressing."
This European report card emerges against a background of internal economic problems which have led to some of the worst European wrangling in the 23 years of the Community.
The European summit in Maastricht was to deal at length with disputes over fishing rights, steel, and the flood of cars and machine tools from Japan.
But heads of government and foreign ministers also spent considerable time pooling impressions gathered in the two months of the Reagan administration so far.
they have believed until now that Mr. Reagan is still finding his feet, and that the zigzags in his team's public statements are little more than usual procedure every four or eight years in Washington.
Commissioner Tugendhat said Mr. Haig was well known in Europe from his time as commander of NATO forces. Europe looked to him and to Mr. Reagan for consistency.
Europeans were concerned at some of the anti-Soviet tones in Washington, he said. In particular, he worried about possible pressure on West Germany, which needed trade with Moscow and which also worried about protecting German people in Eastern Europe.
Meanwhile there is considerable apprehension about the effects if Moscow invaded Poland. "It would ruin Bonn's policy of contacts with the East, at least in the short run," comments one source in Brussels.
Another official added: "The French don't talk about it in public, but they are worried about Afghanistan and Poland and th ey are edging closer to the US there days. . . ."