Humpty Dumpty Reunites

ELIZABETH POND

November 02, 1993|By ELIZABETH POND

BRUSSELS — Brussels.--The Europeans have patched Humpty Dumpty (P together again. As of yesterday, the new European Union is the result.

The sound of celebration on this historic day is neither a cheer nor a Bronx cheer, but a sigh and a shrug. Euphoria is no more. Neither is the lust for the Margaret Thatcher-type battles. The important issues -- recession, 17 million structurally unemployed and the French threat to scupper international trade negotiations -- have been shoved off to the December summit of the European Community. So has rejigging procedures to facilitate decision making after the present 16 members expand to an unwieldy 20 when the ''Nordic and Alpine'' states join the club in 1995.

Nevertheless, the Germans in particular are eager to welcome the ''new impulses'' from the special summit they called last weekend to launch the European Union -- and to enjoy their victory in winning for Frankfurt the European Monetary Institute. The institute, besides shooting up real-estate prices in Frankfurt in the short term, will run European Community monetary cooperation in the medium term, beginning next January -- and in long-term planning, it will turn into a European Central Bank by the end of the century.

What the Germans argue, despite the surge of Europessimism since the ambitious Maastricht Treaty was signed two years ago and set off popular resistance, is that the scaled-down treaty now in force does indeed change things. Any citizen of the European Community may now vote (or run for office) in any other member country's local elections. When abroad, he or she may appeal for help to the consulate of any EC member. Already, EC citizens are waved through pro forma by border officials at EC airports -- although, contrary to original plans, they do have to display their passports.

Moreover, the joint police battle against drugs, gun-running and other organized crime has now been passed up to EC level. So has social policy -- for members other than Britain, which ''opted out'' when the Maastricht Treaty was agreed on two long years ago.

These are all part of the new Community ''pillar'' dealing with issues that traditionally have been regarded as domestic policy. Together, three pillars -- the four-decade-old economic cooperation, the new pan-European competence over domestic affairs and the projected pan-European ''common foreign and security policy'' -- constitute the ''European Union.''

So far, the third pillar remains something of a joke. Only by a common policy of ignoring the most burning issue, Bosnia, have the members of the new European Union managed to promise each other joint policy in such extra-European areas as promoting democratization in South Africa and providing economic support for peace agreements in the Mideast.

Indeed, it is only by the most strenuous efforts that those motors of European Union, France and Germany, still stick together. Economists argue that pressures are growing on Paris to loosen the softer franc from the hard Deutsche mark -- a step that would make the planned currency union harder to achieve.

Moreover, in the most urgent immediate issue, the decade-old General Agreement on Tariff and Trade negotiation that must conclude by the U.S. congressional deadline of mid-December or else fail, free-trade Germany is refraining from lashing protectionist France only because its criticism might bring worse protectionists to the fore.

Despite all the disappointments, brave German talk about ''new impulses'' is not entirely whistling in the dark. Bonn and Paris and Rome and Madrid all agree that there is no alternative to further integration in today's interdependent Europe. More surprisingly, even integration-allergic Britain is starting to share the view that the big members must reform the Community -- or the Union -- to prevent blockage of decision making by the little members before four more midgets (Finland, Norway, Switzerland and Austria) join.

In addition, in one of the least noticed developments of all, the European courts of justice have carved out comprehensive jurisdiction rights for themselves over the past decade and had their decisions enforced without protest by member states. Some German justices are already pointing to the precedent of accretion of American federal powers under the interstate commerce clause.

If the Germans are right, that Humpty Dumpty, European Union, may turn out to be functional, after all.

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

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