Decision for Europe

September 17, 1992

While Germany calls the shots in Europe to the discomfort of others, the French relish their role in Sunday's referendum. They alone will decide if the supernational unification movement in Europe goes forward or backward. In the last poll, they were split down the middle.

The Maastricht Treaty for monetary union was a natural progression for Eurocrats. The officials and politicians in the European Community are pushing the transformation of formerly warring powers into one economic superpower. The Maastricht treaty sets up common financial institutions leading to a single currency by year 2000.

But the Danish rejection of it in referendum suggested the Eurocrats had run ahead of the people, oblivious to the stress of the geographic enlargement of the European Community. Enlargement means the expensive absorption of East Germany, with Slovenia, Hungary and other nations banging on the door.

The Irish then voted for ratification. French President Francois Mitterrand, trying to use the popularity of Europe to boost his own sagging fortunes, called this referendum, which has no proper place in the French ratification process. A festering scandal broke into the open with indictment of a Mitterrand ally for taking funds for the Socialists from firms bidding on government contracts. Instead of Europe rescuing Mr. Mitterrand, the linkage may sink Europe in the vote.

Of course, the Maastricht treaty was already theoretically dead, rejected by Danish voters when unanimous ratifications are required. But four of the 12 ratifications are in, and European boosters felt one small country could be turned around. If the French reject the treaty, however, the British government will suspend the ratification process and this treaty is truly dead.

French enthusiasm for a coherent Europe run by a Franco-German hegemony has been dampened by European failures to quiet Yugoslavia, the German-dictated European recession as German interest rates divert capital to East Germany, the refugee problem in Europe and the ugly German racism surfacing in response. The marginal reductions of two jTC interest rates by the German central bank were a token of concern for French sensibilities before the vote, little and late.

It's a close call for Europe. What the French like about it is that it is their call, no one else's.

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