On European Unity, Mrs. Thatcher's Unease Is Britain's

WILLIAM PFAFF

June 27, 1991|By WILLIAM PFAFF

PARIS. — Paris -- The Tory Party in Britain has spent the past nine months demonstrating that General de Gaulle was right to have vetoed Britain's candidacy for membership in the European Community in 1963 and that his successors were wrong to lift that veto.

Britain does not belong in the Community because, in its British lion heart, it simply does not want to be there. It is a grudging member of Europe today because British business and industry insist on it, and because the public majority has been cajoled by international opinion to accept that membership is the right thing.

But it is Margaret Thatcher, not Edward Heath, who really speaks for England. (One should be precise. Scotland and Ireland have always had European allies and attachments. It is England -- that other Eden, demi-paradise, moated by the sea ''Against the envy of less happy lands'' -- whose identity as a nation is bound up in resistance to the threats of Norman to Napoleonic France, the dangers of Germany in the first half of our century, and now those alleged of a European ''superstate.'')

The past two weeks have seen Mrs. Thatcher in Chicago and New York, denouncing European monetary and political union. This provoked Edward Heath, her predecessor, to at last denounce her, saying what for 16 years he has truly felt about this terrible woman. John Major has done his best to be a sensible and moderate prime minister as these two Lears raged, but it did him little good. Mrs. Thatcher now is determined to make his life a hell, as she demonstrated once again recently, in her David Frost interview on PBS.

In principle, however, Mrs. Thatcher is right. Not only does Britain not belong in a Europe made up of people most of whom the English do not like and do not trust, but her criticisms of current European Community negotiating programs on monetary and political union are in important respects justified.

The project to create a single currency and a central bank for 12 different national economies is open to serious question on grounds of economic and monetary realism. (Twelve economies now: but Turkey, Austria and Sweden are already in line to join; Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary are clamoring to be admitted; and Finland, Norway and others will want in, after that.) Britain's own proposal for a common currency (an extended Ecu), rather than a single currency, makes more sense in the immediate future.

Mrs. Thatcher and her friends have chosen to attack the proposal for European political union on unrealistic grounds, obscuring the serious objections to this plan for a common European foreign and security policy. She sees a threat to Britain's parliament and even to ''our beloved queen.'' Elementary common sense says that the Dutch, Belgians, Danes and Spanish are no more willing than she is to give up their monarchs, nor are the Luxembourgers, albeit committed Europeans, going to send their Grand Duke off to the dole.

Nor are the Europeans renouncing sovereignty. France's ferocious defense of its national right to run foreign, military and colonial policies as it pleases has been a largely noticeable characteristic of the past 45 years. Anyone who thinks France will change that needs to spend some time in France.

The French are fighting the Germans right now over new powers for the European Parliament and the proposed European central bank. France is against strengthening the parliament and insists that the bank be under political control, not independent.

Germany is the chief advocate of increased power for European institutions. This too has been true for 45 years. It is the result of the German people's need to put behind them a terrible past of nationalist and Nazi war and attach themselves to a better and larger European history. That such sentiments will prevail in the future, in a reunified Germany which has just regained its unqualified sovereignty (and historic capital), must be considered an open question.

The European ''superstate'' Mrs. Thatcher denounces has never been seriously in prospect. Jacques Delors, Mrs. Thatcher's bete noire, president of the European Commission and supporter of monetary and political union, calls only for ''a political personality'' for Europe, and ''a political will founded on a clear consciousness of the essential interests which the member states have in common.'' It is hard to argue with that.

Britain's position today is curious in that the European ''superstate'' it debates is a phantom threat, yet a real political issue because of Britain's ancient and emotionally charged conflict with the Continent, since Viking raids and Norman conquest. The Hundred Years' War has proved a Thousand Years' War.

Britain properly belongs to a post-imperial Atlantic world, where it could unite itself with the two North American societies of British implantation. Unhappily for Britain, that opportunity is not on offer. Americans are aware of their British attachments and debt; the wartime alliance was a great success and so was the Persian Gulf alliance.

But the United States and Canada think themselves ''multicultural'' nations now, and Washington, while it likes allies who speak English, is interested in power, and power lies in continental Europe and Japan. The alliance on offer for Britain is Europe's, and that alliance, for all that Britain's head says yes, goes against the deepest island instincts of Englishmen.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

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