The Common Market, driving force and guarantor of the affluence and social welfare of Europeans, has gained an attraction whose influence extends far beyond the Europe of the Twelve. The announcement of the Delors Plan alone made the members of the European Free Trade Association (Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Austria, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein) desirous of intensifying their cooperation with the EC, with the objective, as they say, “of establishing a dynamic and homogeneous European Economic Area.” In Vienna, the question of whether Austria could and should join the European Community has even been discussed of late. And the Norwegians, who rejected EC membership in a referendum fifteen years ago, are thinking about revisiting that decision. The aura of the Common Market does not even diffuse at the bloc boundaries. Since Gorbachev took office, the eastern Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecom) has made increasing efforts to establish diplomatic relations with the EC. Bilateral talks on trade treaties with Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Hungary are underway.
The dismantling of trade obstacles and customs barriers and the standardization of norms, in short, an expansion of the Single Market – this lies in the interest of consumers and producers and should be supported. But the model of an ever-expanding economic integration is not appropriate for politics. The 1950s idea that an increased meshing of Western Europe’s political economies would inevitably lead to the political unity of Western Europe as well, has turned out to be an error in judgment. After three decades in which “Europe” admitted new members three times (Great Britain, Ireland, and Denmark in 1973; Greece in 1981; and Spain and Portugal in 1986), that saying by the prince of poets seems more likely to be confirmed: that when you tread on curds, they will spread out, but not become stronger*.? It is pointless to seek a “guilty” party: The more members there are, the more interests enter into the decision-making process. The greater the economic gap between member states, the more varied these interests will be.
The belief that the Community of Twelve could in the foreseeable future become a political unit capable of action is an illusion. The path to common ground in security and foreign policy that has been repeatedly called for in the past months cannot lead through the Brussels undergrowth. Now, the important thing is a move forward by those governments that have understood the sign of the times. Then, the others will have to think about whether they wish to belong to a Europe that defines itself politically, or if they are satisfied with enjoying the economic advantages of a common market.
* The prince of poets quoted here is Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and the saying comes from his West-Östlicher Divan: “Getretner Quark / Wird breit, nicht stark.” “Weak curds who treads / Firms not, but spreads.” Reprinted in Poems of the West and East, “West-Eastern Divan,” Book of Proverbs, translated by John Whaley. Bern: Peter Lang, 1998, pp. 226-27 – trans.
Source: Günther Nonnenmacher, “Zweimal Europa” [“Twofold Europe”], Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, September 25, 1987.
Translation: Allison Brown