West German Marshall Fund celebrates 10th birthday

The 10th birthday party of the German Marshall Fund was a discreet but proud affair this month, complete with banquet at Bonn's Redoute.

After a decade both the West German donors and the American administrators of the fund are pleased to celebrate the accomplishments of their child.

Chancellor Willy Brandt launched the fund at the 1972 Harvard commencement. West Germany would finance a small foundation -- at $10 million deutsche marks per year (about $4 million at current rates) over 15 years -- to promote good US-European relations. There would be no strings attached.

An American board would have complete freedom in deciding how to spend the money. The gift would be an expression of gratitude for the American Marshall Plan -- also launched at a Harvard commencement, in 1947 -- that got Europe back on its economic feet after World War II.

Among the most imaginative programs the fund has sponsored are its media and environment activities. Marshall Fund grants have enabled America's National Public Radio to present weekly European interviews and to strengthen European coverage in its regular news and new features.

The fund has also financed a weekly half-hour interview with European experts and policymakers that is now distributed to some 250 commercial and public radio stations. In addition, it pays for two European journalists to study American issues at US universities each year, one at Harvard and the other at Stanford.

In the environmental field, the Fund has sponsored various internships and conferences that have tended to increase public participation in policymaking. One of the most successful events was the first-ever 1980 meeting of international specialists in chemical pollution.

A network of contacts was started then that led to Austrian consultation with American, Dutch, and other experts in the course of writing new legislation on the subject. The network also went into action on its own last December, in blocking in West Germany the sale of American eels that had been banned from sale in the US because of contamination.

In general, the fund has promoted exchanges of practitioners in areas where there are common problems confronting advanced industrial societies. This category has included local transportations, urban renewal, and housing planners , as well as feminists, business managers, immigration social workers, and others.

In one project supported by the Marshall Fund a Scottish consultant helped shape a Cleveland program of using nonpro-fessional, community panels to help young criminal offenders. In another, 13 US and 14 West German trade unionists each spent a month studying industrial democracy and collective bargaining in the other's countries.

At this point the Marshall Fund is shifting its emphasis from social to economic and political programs. A major reason for this is alarm over the US-European quarrels that have arisen in the past few years, and a sense that these differences need to be tackled directly.

The concern is that with the passing of the remarkable older generaton of Americans with personal experience in Europe (including especially emigres from Hitler's Germany and veterans of the postwar American occupation of Germany), the old easy trust has been lost. Through its projects the Fund hopes to help restore something like the old intimacy.

To this end the fund has recently begun one of its most ambitious undertakings to date. With a $4 milion grant it has just established the Institute for International Economics, the first research institution in the US dealing exclusively with international economic issues.

It will have the mandate to anticipate and analyze the major economic issues likely to confront policymakers of industrial nations over the medium term of one to three years.

The Fund's shift of focus is not meeting with universal approval. Leftist-leaning critics regard the foundation as just reinforcing the establishment networks that already exist between the US and European elites. They accuse the Marshall Fund of shrinking from the innovation that should be the hallmark of small independent foundations, and of just following the well-trod path of the big foundations.

With two-thirds of its initial life already past, the German Marshall Fund is currently looking for financing past 1987 that will make it self-perpetuating.

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