Don't Give Up on Europe

ELIZABETH POND

December 01, 1992|By ELIZABETH POND

BONN — Bonn.--Maastricht isn't dead yet. To be sure, Danish, British and even German voters are grumpy about the European Community's projection of economic and political ''union'' by the end of the decade, and British Prime Minister John Major might love to bury the whole idea at the forthcoming EC summit in Edinburgh. The most powerful politician in Europe, however, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, is battling hard for that Maastricht goal.

Such activism is a big gamble. And it's highly unusual. Mr. Kohl's preferred political style is to act by inaction, letting outside pressure build to force the kind of movement he desires.

Even in the face of a potential trade war between Europe and the U.S., Mr. Kohl stuck to such passivity in the world tariff talks just ended. He wanted to finish off those six-year-old negotiations every bit as much as President Bush. But instead of putting personal pressure on holdout French President Francois Mitterrand to compromise with Washington on that last tiny 2 million tons of oilseeds, Mr. Kohl let the other EC members do the pushing.

In the end, he calculated correctly that Paris would not dare isolate itself, even at the cost of angry French farmers, by being the sole nation to veto a boost to global trade worth $100 billion.

Maastricht is different. Mr. Kohl fears that deal will fall apart unless he puts every ounce of his considerable bulk into getting the required ratification from all 12 members by next year, while simultaneously admitting as new members Sweden, Austria and Finland. He hopes that if he can keep the EC from stopping dead in the water now, then momentum toward ''widening'' its membership and ''deepening'' its integration will reinforce each other. It is a shift from Bonn's earlier demand for ratification of Maastricht before expanding the club.

Mr. Kohl's urgency stems from two different concerns. The first is that if the Danish referendum's rejection of European union last spring requires renegotiation of the whole complex fabric of deals put together at Maastricht a year ago -- as the Danes are saying -- then what has already come unraveled could never be sewn together again. Renegotiation would be a nightmare.

The second worry might be summed up by saying that Mr. Kohl doesn't trust young Germans and wants to block any nationalistic turn in the future. He wants to lock Germany into European union before the very pro-European generation that remembers Hitler cedes power. Here he did not achieve the automaticity he sought; both the German parliament and state governments have insisted on preserving their voice before surrendering the next slice of sovereignty.

In general, Mr. Kohl can no doubt pull off his policy in Germany. Polls suggest that up to 80 percent of German voters would reject the heart of economic union -- giving up their ''lovely Deutsche mark'' for a softer pan-European currency. But all the major German parties favor Maastricht and will soon ratify it. The views of the man in the street will simply be overridden. There will be no referendum here.

Outside Germany, Mr. Kohl's course is much riskier. It presumes that non-binding nods by other EC members in the direction of Danes worried about losing their identity can suffice to turn a percentage point or two of voters in the Danish rerun referendum. It presumes that once Denmark squeaks through with ratification, then Prime Minister John Major will be able to squeak through with ratification in the British parliament.

It presumes further that the new members Sweden, Austria and Finland will accede meekly to the (eventual) common EC foreign and defense policy prescribed at Maastricht rather than taking advantage of the present disarray to insist on keeping some of their old neutrality.

By going for broke instead of readjusting to a reduced vision, Mr. Kohl is putting everything at stake. If any part of his chain fails, the whole enterprise will be endangered.

Specifically, he may end up de facto with Britain's anti-integration preference: an EC that in widening to the east precludes any further deepening among the old members. This could happen if Denmark (or Britain) sabotages Maastricht by non-ratification; and if the neutrals coming in resist forming that common foreign and security policy.

Thanks to Mr. Kohl, Maastricht isn't dead in the run-up to the Edinburgh summit. But it's still teetering on the cliff.

Elizabeth Pond is a free-lance journalist based in Europe.

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