European (dis)Union

November 02, 1993

"Whether they like it or not, and whether they know it or not, all nationals of the 12 member states of the European Community woke up [yesterday] as something which [Sunday] night they were not, namely citizens of the European Union."

So editorialized the Financial Times of London, but it was largely a sardonic observation. On a day devoid of celebration of this ostensibly historic event, the 12 very sovereign governments involved could not even decide whether to call themselves a rather modest "European Community," which they have been for some time, or a more grandiose "European Union." The dispute over nomenclature symbolized just how far the Europeans have to go before they can hope to have (or deplore having) a common currency and common defense and foreign policies. The United States of Europe they are not and probably will never be.

Nevertheless, the wheels of this machine are turning as the Maastricht Treaty, once given up for lost, goes into effect. At the new year, much to the consternation of the British, Frankfurt will become the locus of a new European Monetary Institute which, if the Germans have their way, will metamorphose eventually into a European Central Bank operating in the shadows of the mighty Bundesbank.

The Bank of England, fearful the City of London could lose out as the financial center of Europe, reacted by snorting, "It's a pity, not for the City but for the EMI." Yet the continentals knew the undeniable: That the Germans would never give up their beloved Deutsche Marks if Frankfurt did not control the common currency that may emerge. And without Germany, both as acknowledged kingpin and as a giant needing to be tied down, a meaningful European Union can never materialize.

It's not just centuries-old national identity that bedevils the European search for political and economic unity as a follow-on to the Common Market they have created to hold their own in international commerce. At the moment, all 12 members of the Community are plagued by double-digit unemployment and stagnant economic growth. They also have demonstrated in the former Yugoslavia a complete inability to deal with a grave security and humanitarian problem on their doorstep. And faced with the Dec. 15 deadline for completion of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, they are dealing with a France gone bonkers in support of senseless subsidies for its dwindling farm population.

For the United States, the supposed political benefits of a united Europe are giving way to the economic liabilities of a Fortress Europe. Our immediate answer is the North American Free Trade Agreement, unless protectionists in Congress shoot this country in the foot. And our best answer is a successful GATT agreement that would force hyper-nationalists everywhere -- on both sides of the North Atlantic -- to join the world that exists rather than the world they fantasize.

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