European Unity Drive Falters

German reunification, Gulf war, and change in British leadership put brake on integration

FIRST German reunification, and now the Gulf war: Events are conspiring to slow the process of European economic and political integration. A year ago, European leaders from Jacques Delors, president of the European Community (EC) Commission, to French President Fran 141>ois Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl sounded nearly euphoric about the construction of Europe and the place it was destined to hold in the world. People spoke of the 1990s as "the European decade."

Europe's role is in doubt

Today, however, there are as many doubts about a united Europe playing a first-rung role in world affairs as there are hopes for a European Community of a true political dimension. Mr. Delors says EC members are "working too slowly" toward economic union, and warns that the Gulf war proves that the "European dream" will "inevitably fade" if the EC doesn't build a political dimension.

When French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas recently proposed a special summit of the EC's 12 members to allow "an honest declaration of intentions and expectations" concerning Europe's integration in the aftermath of the Gulf war, his words suggested doubts about his partners.

France is no longer so sure as it once was of its German partner, and there are new questions about the role Britain wishes to play in European affairs. European ministers meet regularly on EC business, but observers point out that it is among heads of state that ultimate positions are fleshed out. Thus the proposal for a special summit (before the regular June summit), which will probably take place in April.

There are both transitory and more profound reasons why the EC's drive for economic and political integration is slowing.

First, the EC is in the midst of two intergovernmental conferences, one on economic union and the other on political union, that will write far-reaching and sovereignty-limiting amendments into the Treaty of Rome, the EC's constitution. Leaders from Spain to Denmark are making their voices heard while they have the chance, giving the appearance of widely differing opinions.

Another factor is the absence from the European-summit stage of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, as an anti-Europeanist everyone could count on to fight, veto, or water down other leaders' lofty pro-Europe rhetoric. Without Mrs. Thatcher, and with Prime Minister John Major advocating a British role "in the center of European affairs," other leaders are forced to be more pragmatic.

But the process of German reunification and the Gulf war have been most important in the slowdown. Their effects mean "the community will be going through a period of reflection, at least of several months, as to what it really intends to accomplish," says Pascal Lorot, a specialist in East-West affairs at Paris's Political Studies Institute.

Germany is more active

German reunification is the more rattling event of the two, Mr. Lorot believes. Perhaps as late as the mid-1990s, Germany's first priority will be the economic consolidation of the former East Germany, as well as the extension of a German economic zone over much of Eastern Europe. At the same time, Germany's desire to play a larger international political role will naturally grow.

"We're already seeing steps indicating how Germany will act independently to enhance its economic and political position, and we should expect to see more," says Lorot. "This period will last as long as it takes Germany to weave its economic ties with the East."

In the economic sphere, the recent raising of German interest rates - to a chorus of Euro-grumbles - and German proposals for slowing the pace toward creation of a single European currency, are two prime examples. Politically, Germany's call for a seat on the United Nations Security Council is another.

Since the community's inception, the "Franco-German couple" has served as its principal motor. But the "golden age" of that relationship is past, Lorot believes. It will remain important, but less dominant.

Some British officials and other observers foresee the emergence of a Bonn-Paris-London triangle as the Community's center of initiative. But that would likely slow down integration, too, since Britain, although more positive about Europe under Mr. Major, remains a gradualist on economic and political union.

Germany and Britain can be expected to reach successive "circumstantial agreements," Lorot says, since Germany appears to be moving closer to Britain's evolutionary view of monetary union.

But in response to Germany's emergence, other countries will shift priorities as well. France, which has quickly moved to develop closer ties with the United States in the Gulf war's aftermath, is likely to continue to try to offset Germany's new European weight. Thus France's decision that it will participate, for the first time in decades, in a coming NATO strategic planning session.

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