A European pillar in need of shoring up

YESTERDAY the European Economic Community (EEC) passed its thirtieth birthday. How far has it gotten toward its goal of an integrated quasi-federal Europe? What are its prospects? France and Germany, of course, have ended their historic rivalry. But the Community has fallen well short of its two other original purposes: to create a single European market, free of barriers, like the United States; and to build a European political entity, which would give Western Europe influence equal to its size and power, and make it an equal partner of the US.

Progress was impeded by several obstacles. The issue of British membership was a divisive impediment for nearly two decades. DeGaulle was opposed to the political integration and central European institutions as infringing on French independence, and vetoed or stymied action. Finally, the expansion of the Community from six members to nine in 1973, to ten in 1981, and to twelve in 1986, inevitably diverted energy and attention into negotiations, adjustments, and absorbing the new members.

Still, the Community did become a customs union free of internal tariffs or quotas, with a common external tariff and trade policy, and an expensive common agricultural policy. It adopted a limited monetary system; fostered cooperation in technology and other fields; pursued a joint program for assistance to some sixty-six developing countries; and achieved some coordination in foreign policy. But the institutions were weak, with the council of national ministers, acting mainly by unanimity, overshadowing the Commission, and the elected parliament having little real power.

The last year or so, however, has seen a striking change. The goals of a true single market and greater European influence have taken on new life. Two factors have jolted European leaders.

First, Europe has been lagging badly behind the US and Japan in technology and innovation; unemployment has been around 12 percent; and its economies have been sluggish in creating jobs.

Real integration of the Common Market, allowing the free flow of goods, people, services and capital, seems essential in order to foster more dynamic economies and more rapid growth. After a detailed analysis by the European Commission of the extensive reforms which would be necessary to achieve a genuine single market, the European Council agreed on the goal of attaining it by 1992. To facilitate doing so, the members amended the basic EEC treaty to allow more decisions to be made without unanimity, and to make other changes in the institutions and competence of the Community. The program will also require the reform of the costly and politically sensitive agricultural policy, as well as providing larger revenues for Community activities.

Secondly, European leaders have also been troubled about the lack of influence of Western Europe. They have been shaken by the unilateral decisions of the Reagan administration regarding the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and the Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, at Reykjavik, and on Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) and other issues. They worry about US-Soviet agreements over their heads, or failure by the US to pursue openings. Moreover, concern has been growing about possible withdrawals of US forces from Europe.

In a speech in Brussels in mid-March, Sir Geoffrey Howe, British foreign minister, referred to strains arising from changes in attitudes in the US and Europe. While insisting that the US remained fully committed to NATO, he went on to say: ``But we need to be alert to trends in American thinking which might diminish our security - perhaps not today or tomorrow, but possibly in the longer term.'' He urged more European cooperation and coordination. But Sir Geoffrey recognized the difficulty in getting more resources for conventional defense and closer cooperation in standardizing and co-producing weapons.

The pressure of events is forcing the region's leaders to focus on the basic question of what role they want for Europe. They seem agreed on the objective of achieving the benefits of a single market and a more cohesive community, and more influence in foreign policy and defense. They appear to recognize the need to overcome encrusted habits, parochial interests, and the enduring itch for independence. But doing that will surely require transferring more authority to European institutions, like the Commission and parliament.

Apparently the people of the Community are prepared to do so over time. A recent opinion poll shows substantial support for an effective Community (except in Denmark) and the general readiness to see it develop gradually into a European government, responsible for the economy, foreign affairs and defense within the next three decades or less. The leaders are another matter. President Mitterand of France stated his support for political unity, and a confederal or federal regime, with similar powers, including defense, in a speech on the Community at Chatham House in London last January. But Sir Geoffrey and others seem to be thinking more in terms of cooperation and joint action.

The last three decades have shown that the European idea retains vitality. Only the coming years will show whether Jean Monnet and the other founders of the Community were right in thinking that the movement towards integration under common institutions and laws would prove inexorable under the pressure of necessity.

Robert R. Bowie has been concerned with foreign affairs for nearly 40 years on the Harvard faculty, in government posts, and as a consultant.

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