Delors, Europe's visionary bureaucrat, up for new term today as head of EC

June 26, 1992|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,Staff Writer

LISBON, Portugal -- He is a small man with no taste for flamboyance. He favors the sour, skeptical look of a French customs official; he is a bureaucrat.

But he has the quality that George Bush is said to yearn after: He has the vision thing.

Jacques Delors is one of the most important men in Europe. He is the servant of Europe. Though hardly known in the United States, his face is instantly recognized throughout the Continent. He is widely admired, but not everywhere.

Here and there he is vehemently hated, by those who believe he is determined to sap the sovereignty of national governments and draw all the European states into a federal union.

Today, the European Community summit opens in Portugal, and the leaders of the 12 EC nations will decide whether to keep Mr. Delors as president of the European Commission.

If one looks at the EC as a corporation, with each national leader a director on the board, Mr. Delors is the chief executive. He is hired by the board and subordinate to it.

As the summit opens, the expectation is that the leaders will go against the wishes of the nationalist elements in their own countries and give Mr. Delors two more years to guide the EC.

In addition, the community will here begin the process of its own enlargement by reviewing the applications of Switzerland, Finland and Austria. Norway also may be considered for membership.

The aim, most strongly pressed by Britain, is to widen the EC by the mid-1990s, to create a market of about 360 million people.

That would be the richest market in the world, well over 100 million more people with money to spend than are encompassed by the United States.

Also in Lisbon, the leaders of the 12 will try to agree on how to finance the operations of the community in the years ahead.

* There has never been a leader of the EC like Jacques Delors. He changed everything.

There was a time when the presidency of the European Commission was a respectable sinecure for politicians written out of the scripts of their own national dramas. Among those who preceded Mr. Delors were Gaston Thorn of Luxembourg and Roy Jenkins of Britain, both former Cabinet ministers.

Mr. Delors has raised the stature of the presidency so high that his successor is likely to be a former prime minister or some other paramount figure on Europe's political stage, such as Felipe Gonzalez of Spain or Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the former foreignminister of Germany.

Before being named commission president in 1985, Mr. Delors had been the French finance minister who persuaded the Socialist President Francois Mitterrand to abandon the nationalizations of major industries in that country. It was a policy change that benefited Mr. Mitterrand and the French economy.

That Mr. Delors, a Socialist himself, could urge a reversal of Socialist strategy, it is said, indicated a pragmatic streak.

During his presidency it has revealed itself again and again. Thus, Mr. Delors is seen as one of those rare men who have a grasp of the detail of EC business as well as a strategic vision.

"He has taken the widest view of Europe, to embrace not only the nitty-gritty, but the whole role of the EC in foreign and security policy," says Sir Michael Franklin, an EC expert in Britain's Royal Institute of International Affairs.

"He has been a good president," he adds. "He has been tremendously active, an ideas man. He does spend a lot of time thinking."

Though he is frequently accused of trying to draw more and more political power to the community's bureaucracy in Brussels, Belgium, Mr. Delors has little of the bureaucrat's addiction to secrecy.

"No one can deny that Mr. Delors is very honest," said Richard Body, a British member of Parliament and author of an anti-federalist book, "Europe of Many Circles."

"He has promoted a debate. We are all the wiser about [the dangers of] an ever-closer union because of his openness."

The products of Mr. Delors' thinking have been many. During his time in office the Single Market Act was drafted and signed. It will go into effect at the end of this year, when the borders among all EC countries are thrown open.

People, goods, services and capital will move freely through the EC, much as they do through the states of the United States. The aim is to generate growth, force prices down and allow the unemployed to explore the entire community for jobs.

Among the more important, but least showy achievements, was the Delors scheme for financing the EC. Getting the 12 member states to agree to contribute 1.2 percent of their gross national products was, some observers say, as much a tribute to his talents for diplomacy as for accounting.

That achievement was called Delors One. Here in Lisbon he will be pressing Delors Two, trying to persuade the member states to raise their contributions to 1.37 percent. As expected, he is meeting resistance.

But if Jacques Delors is known for anything, it is for drafting the blueprint for the Maastricht treaty of European union. The treaty contains, among other things, the guidelines for reaching monetary union under a single currency by the end of the century. It advances the notion of a European citizenship. It tightens the relations between and among the states more than anything since the 1957 Treaty of Rome brought the EC into being.

There is no doubt Mr. Delors believes that one day there could be a federal Europe. But he is realistic enough to know not everyone believes as he does, or wants what he wants.

The pros and antis divide each country of the community, and probably always will, pushing forward and pulling back.

At the center of it all stands Jacques Delors, trying to reconcile and ameliorate these forces. At least he is there now, and may be for the next two years.

After that, it is thought he may run for the French presidency, if he decides it is not too much of a step down.

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