W. Germany pushes ahead with European union plan

In an inauspicious time economically and politically, West Germany is still pushing for Western European union. The latest bid, from the Foreign Ministry's chief long-term planner, again proposes greater coordination of European defense and other policies.

In his article in the March issue of Europa-Archiv Neils Hansen acknowledges the difficulties. There are tough negotiations coming up on European Community (EC) farm support reform. There is deadlock on the sharingout of fishing rights. There is probably more protectionist sentiment abroad that at any time since the Common Market was founded. There are Gargantuan problems in the integration of fledgling EC member Greece and future members Spain and Portugal.

and besides all this, West German money, which has so often lubricated farm price hikes or resolved French-British confrontation or rescued the floundering Italian economy, is no longer there in the 1981 no-growth recession.

In addition, since Dr. Hansen wrote his piece, no less a personage than West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt himself is reported to have threatened to take his financial marbles and go home if Britain doesn't live up to what the Germans deem a hard promise from 1979 not to block the fisheries agreement.

Under the circumstances most politicians would consider themselves lucky if they could simply prevent existing European cooperation from crumbling. But -- perhaps on the theory that the best defense is a strong offense -- the West Germans re campaigning for still more unity. The Dutch find the West German dream impossibly Utopian, and most EC countries have maintained a prudent silence about the German vision. Both the Italian and -- more surprisingly -- the British foreign ministers have warmly endorsed Bonn's efforts, however.

The West German push began last January, when Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher proposed nothing less than a treaty on European union (apparently as a declaration of intent). Now, at a time of particular stagnation prior to the French election in May, Genscher's think shop is again pressing the idea.

As Hansen analyzes it, "The hope which was still being cherished in the 1970s that progress would more or less automatically take place by virtue of the growing integration of the national economies has not been fulfilled. . . . Instead of the further gradual integration of the national economies, the danger of recourse to national solo efforts and protectionist practices has been heightened." Hence the urgency of a new political impulse to European union.

As Hansen describes his foreign minister's views, a treaty of European union might codify those practices that have sprung up but so far do not formally exist: the European Council (the biannual summit of EC heads of government or state) and European Political Cooperation (EPC), the formulation of common EC foreign policies that in effect developed after the first oil crisis eight years ago.

Such an institutionalization of EPC, Hansen suggests, could include among other things integration of EC diplomatic, trade, and aid policy toward the third world, as already begun in tariff agreements with Mediterranean, ASEAN, and African countries in the Lome and other agreements.

On the desirability of closer Western European defense coordination Hansen again cites his foreign minister. But neither spokesman has yet elaborated how much security coordination would mesh with NATO. Nine of the 10 EC members (excluding Ireland) are already NATO members. And both Genscher and Hansen feel obliged to stress that any eventual common EC defense policy would operate only in t andem with Washington.

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