Clinton Asks Europe to Take the Lead, But Are Its Leaders Ready?

PRESIDENT Clinton's three-day visit to the Belgian capital allowed the US president to convince European leaders that America is not about to forget their continent.

But European observers and analysts say the president came with another equally important message - that Western Europe must begin taking responsibility for a broader Europe's economic well-being, political development, and security. The biggest question mark many of them see hanging over this new direction in United States policy is whether Europe is up to the leadership challenge.

``Certainly Clinton wanted to reassure Europeans about America's role, but he also came with the intent of putting considerable pressure on Western Europeans, and particularly the European Union, to take their fair share of responsibilities,'' says Peter Ludlow, director of the Center for European Policy Studies here.

On the integration of Eastern Europe into the West's market economy and democratic system, Mr. Ludlow says, ``The center of Clinton's argument was this: `While we [the US and the EU] are doing this as partners, you'll have to lead - and you'll have to do more.'' The problem, he adds, is that ``at this stage we [in Western Europe] are not up and ready to go.''

Tired European leadership, which in several countries is at the end of a long reign, and distracting electoral campaigns, are primary reasons cited for the widespread doubts about Western Europe's medium-term leadership capabilities. In addition, Western Europe's lingering recession discourages bolder economic engagements with the East, while heavy defense cutbacks in numerous European countries cast doubts on the will to build a ``European defense identity.''

``To be convincing, the Western Europeans are going to have to be seen to do more in terms of manpower, whether it's for a specific case like an eventual Bosnia peacekeeping force, or in the more general context of a European security effort,'' says Michael Dewar, deputy director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

French officials and analysts especially, although among the strongest supporters of a Europe more responsible for its own affairs, express doubts about the readiness and enthusiasm of France's European partners for a ``European defense identity.''

That is one reason Clinton's commitment to keep about 100,000 US troops in Europe was well-received even by the French. French officials say they were also buoyed by Clinton's emphasis on Europe's economic and political integration, while the president's specific reference to ``France's constructive role'' in bringing about an international trade liberalization agreement in December was especially appreciated.

German officials were particularly enthusiastic about what one of them called ``President Clinton's real political vision for Europe.'' German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said the US commitment to Europe included in that vision was especially significant, because it comes from America's younger, postwar leadership.

But Mr. Kohl also took particular note of Clinton's emphasis on Western Europe's responsibilities. At a private meeting with Germans in Brussels during the NATO summit, Kohl said it was now up to Europeans to prove they are up to being America's ``equal partner.''

Kohl cited as key elements in Europe's buildup, the Maastricht Treaty, creating the European Union out of the European Community with far-reaching ambitions for economic and political integration; the embryonic Euro-corps, uniting some French, German, Belgian, and soon Spanish troops under one command; and the Franco-German partnership. Kohl also said he would discuss the steps to strengthen Europe when he meets with Clinton in Washington later this month.

But one problem analysts see is that Kohl, like other European leaders, faces a long and distracting electoral campaign this year, culminating in October elections that are likely to result in the first new German leadership in 12 years.

The picture is similar across Europe: President Mitterrand will leave office in 1995, after 14 years in office; Italy faces extended political upheaval before it can even dream of developing the European leadership role it openly claimed during more confident days in the late 1980s; Britain's John Major, although not facing immediate elections, is so weak at home that any assumption of Europe's leadership mantle would be difficult even if the British were more enthusiastic about European integration. EU executive Commission President Jacques Delors is also a lame duck as he prepares to leave the office he has held since 1985 by the end of the year.

``No one should expect much dramatic leadership out of Europe over the course of this year or much before the end of 1995,'' says the CEPS's Ludlow. ``The Americans are saying `We can do more to help in Europe, but you are in the driver's seat so get on with it,'' he adds. But until the French and German leadership is renewed and that ``couple'' is working constructively again, the vehicle may not be going too far.

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