Europe at the precipice

April 01, 1996|By William Pfaff

PARIS -- The European Union has never been in greater difficulties, and the meeting in Turin to reform European institutions, which began Friday, is an effort to turn away from the precipice. It will succeed, in that something that can be called ''Europe'' will survive revision of the Maastricht Treaty reforms, but no one can now say what that ''Europe'' will be.

The Turin meeting anticipates conflict on a common currency, Europe's power structures, unemployment and social policy. However it will be impossible for the delegates to ignore the imbroglio created by Britain's announcement that ''Mad Cow'' disease may have leaped from ruminant mammal to Homo sapiens (the result, it would seem, of the decision by Homo sapiens, in his greed, to make the herbivore into a carnivore by feeding it the ground-up cadavers of its relative the sheep. It has been an audacity that God, reassuringly, appears to have punished, and for which European taxpayers will now have to pay).

Among the imprudent assumptions of the Maastricht treaty was that Europeans could by the new millennium have not only a single currency but a single foreign and security policy. As usual in European Union matters, the security and foreign-policy problem is being treated as a bureaucratic difficulty that can be solved by creating new institutions of coordination. But you cannot coordinate what is not there.

There cannot be a common European foreign and security policy when there probably are 15 different foreign and security policies in Europe. ''Probably,'' because it is possible that two or three of Europe's members might actually have the same beliefs across a reasonable range of issues.

A mere glance at national foreign policies shows that Britain opposes any European initiative diverging in any controversial way from U.S. policy. To a lesser extent this also is true for the Low countries and Denmark, although the judgment there is primarily pragmatic. A Dutch diplomatic official was recently quoted as saying that the Netherlands' purchase of U.S. military helicopters last year (which were in competition with a more advanced Franco-German model) was ''to pay for the presence of U.S. forces in Europe.''

An independent policy

France wants independent European military and strategic capabilities, not because it automatically opposes American views (although it frequently does so), but because it assumes that sooner or later the United States will either leave Europe or abandon the European governments on some issue important to them. The French want the means to execute an independent policy.

Germans share French anxieties about what Washington might do, but join Britain in opposing any initiative which might upset Washington, as the proposal to develop truly independent European capabilities invariably does.

Spain is distinctly hostile to the American outlook. A poll taken last year for the U.S. Information Agency found that ''on basic policy issues -- European security, economics and trade, stability in the Mediterranean, fostering Cuban democracy -- more Spaniards believe U.S. and Spanish interests diverge than believe they converge.'' The percentage of those Spaniards with an unfavorable view of the U.S. has increased from 42 percent, when the USIA polls began in 1985, to 51 percent in the latest poll.

Sweden and Austria, now members of the EU, are officially neutral nations, supposedly with no positive foreign policy at all, other than to do good internationally without giving offense. The rest of the European Union's members are divided on policy toward Russia, Bosnia's future, intervention in Africa, European Union expansion, Turkey and the Kurds, and what to do about Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, to take some of the larger issues.

Rather than these issues, politicians and officials prefer to talk about mechanisms of diplomatic consultation and security cooperation. France's Prime Minister Alan Juppe last week proposed a European army of 250,000 to 350,000 men, under European Union control, although linked to NATO. The French and Germans already have an integrated armored brigade, and with the Spaniards, Belgians and Luxembourgers, have created a 50,000-man Eurocorps with integrated command and staff. But to do what? To move into Bosnia if NATO moves out? In support of what political objective, and under what command?

The concepts of a strengthened European ''pillar'' for NATO, and of NATO-detached European task forces to execute European tasks with NATO logistical and intelligence support, continue to run into an adamant American insistence that NATO -- which is to say, the U.S. -- retain overall supervision and authority.

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