Why Europe's Common Market has trouble taking common stand

There is widespread feeling that the European Common Market is being seriously undermined by the type of nationalism and protectionism it originally resisted.

Flare-ups such as the recent confrontation of British and Danish fishing interest in the stormy seas off the coast of Scotland and the parliamentary rejection of a refund to Britain from the European Community budget were only the latest examples of a wave of controversies that have resulted in a stifling of and loss of popularity for European cooperation.

Though they no longer seem to be conducted with as much passion as in the past,such perennial EC internal debates have led to a noticeable inability to cope with Europe's serious economic plight.

The result has been an increasing tendency for member governments to resort to national, rather than joint, approaches to their economic problems. This week , the Greek government acted unilaterally, without consulting other EC countries , to devalue its currency and impose curbs on imports. This move followed other protectionist measures by France and more subtle actions by other members.

Many officials and editorial writers now perceive a serious danger to the EC concept from both the usual controversies and the steady erosion of the commitment to liberal trade and cooperation. On one hand, the EC institutions have been hamstrung for the past two years as a result of British demands for refunds from the EC budget. Britain was the largest contributor to the budget while being one of the least-favored recipients.

On the other hand, EC officials here have seen a steady increase in number of members' infractions against the EC internal free-trade rules. EC members conduct more than half of their trade with one another and such curbs have immediate consequences, especially in a period of record unemployment.

The EC commissioner in charge of this sector, Germany's Karl-Heinz Narjes, has said the trend toward unilateral action is at least partly to blame for EC industry's plight.

''The irreversible elimination of trade barriers between members is a basis condition if Europe is to be competitive,'' he observed recently. But, he added, ''There is a temptation to renationalize economic policy that is giving rise to new elements of uncertainty. A number of states have created artificial and administrative barriers to trade which have a considerable impact on reducing investment and trade.''

He noted that the EC staff's caseload of such violations had increased tenfold since 1975, and that while France provided the most publicized example of protectionist action, ''There is cause for concern in each and every member state.''

The EC court has also moved against a spate of national campaigns aimed at discouraging consumers from buying European imports and favoring domestic products. Such movements have been generated recently in France, Great Britain, and Ireland.

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