EC Leaders May Step Up Aid To East European Countries
IN a speech earlier this summer, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher warned that "a new wall, a wall of wealth," is under construction in Western Europe "to replace the Berlin Wall."That view has until now fallen largely on deaf ears in the European Community as most EC leaders have pushed for an even stronger economic and political integration for Western Europe, while relegating the condition of Eastern Europe to a secondary level of concern. But this week's coup attempt in the Soviet Union and the jitters of insecurity it sent through the rest of Central and Eastern Europe is likely to cause a profound reassessment in the way the wealthy countries of Western Europe approach their neighbors to the east. Calls for fresh or accelerated economic and technical assistance will be one result. Some Eastern European countries may achieve a quicker association with the EC, or perhaps an earlier shot at full membership. Some analysts here, however, say they remain skeptical that the calls will be translated to action, as European leaders contemplate the domestic political fallout that more generous assistance to Eastern European economies could entail. Still, there are signs, even before the confusion over this week's thwarted coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev dissipates, that a reassessment in East-West European relations is already taking hold. "A people who so bravely resisted the attempted coup deserve a major aid initiative," said Rudolf Seiters, a chief aide to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, on German television Wednesday night. That perspective has broad support in the German government, and is likely to be echoed in the weeks ahead as German leaders take their case for more aid to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union - a position that predates this week's events - to their European colleagues. Word of the Soviet coup's failure was barely confirmed before officials of the EC's executive Commission were calling for an "enlarged mandate" from EC leaders to negotiate more liberal agreements with Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. In the short term, these agreements would open EC markets to their coal, steel, textiles, and agricultural products. A quicker path to EC membership for these three and other neighbors is likely to gain fresh attention. The Commission also called for closer ties with Bulgaria and Romania, though at this point not the close association being negotiated with their three neighbors. Even British Prime Minister John Major, who along with United States President Bush has resisted pressure, notably from Germany and France, for substantial economic aid to the Soviet Union, indicated Thursday he would consider a revision of the British position during discussions over the coming week with Mr. Bush. Yet British officials say they do not anticipate a major turnabout in their stance. The British government is still convinced that the Soviet economy is not sufficiently restructured to employ a huge infusion of Western aid. That view was repeated by US Secretary of State James Baker III. "You're not going to see the Soviet Union reviving economically through the mechanism of check-writing" by the West, he said Wednesday during a stop in Brussels for an emergency meeting of NATO ministers. As for Eastern Europe, one British official says the EC "will certainly be taking into consideration" the ramifications of an unstable Soviet Union on its evolution. As for economic assistance, the official adds, "We don't now envisage it kicking into a quicker gear." It is not just that kind of prediction following this week's Soviet events but the reality of European action before this week that has some analysts expressing skepticism about the sincerity of Western Europe's desire to tighten its embrace of the East. Some observers point out, for example, that Germany, despite lofty words on closer association with Eastern Europe, is as resistant as any EC member to concessions on imports of East European products that would affect German producers. "The first lesson we should have learned [from this week's events] is that the Soviet Union will remain a troubled country as much as before, and that means we should integrate Central Europe [into Western Europe] as rapidly as we can," says Dominique Mosi, assistant director of the French Institute for Foreign Relations. "But whether that has been learned, I don't know." According to Mr. Mosi, one of a group of analysts advising EC Commission President Jacques Delors on relations between the Community and the East's emerging democracies, the EC "has unfortunately been very slow" in helping the East join the West. As for whether that might now change, he adds, "We are good under fire, but when the fire goes out we quickly resume our previous positions." The Dutch government, which holds the EC's rotating presidency, canceled an emergency summit planned for Thursday after it became clear Mr. Gorbachev would resume his functions. Dutch officials did not rule out a future special summit to take up the issue of the EC's relationship with Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. But a government spokesman said some time is needed to assess the Soviet situation.