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Regional Outlook : Europeans Are Lining Up for Applications to Join the EC : * Nearly every country on the Continent wants to either be a member or establish economic ties with the Community.

July 16, 1991|JOEL HAVEMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BRUSSELS — Sweden wants in: It hopes membership in the European Community will help cure its double-digit inflation. Austria wants in: As a member of the EC, it believes it could sell more of its products to the 12 EC nations. Even tiny Cyprus wants in: Membership in the EC, according to its predominantly Greek-Cypriot government, would give it an added measure of security from Turkey.

In fact, for a host of reasons, practically every non-EC European country from wealthy Scandinavia to fast-changing Eastern Europe is seeking to join or at least to establish some sort of special relationship with the community.

"More and more countries are thinking in terms that they shouldn't miss the train," says Frans Andriessen, vice president of the European Commission, the EC's executive branch.

The end result, although it might be decades away, could be a Continent tied together both economically and politically--not only an economic colossus but also a major diplomatic force in the post-Cold War world.

"The community, now 340 million strong, sees itself as the cornerstone of the new architecture of Europe," declares Jacques Delors, president of the European Commission. "It is therefore forging closer links with the rest of Europe, tailoring its approach to each individual situation."

Yet Delors worries that the EC's cumbersome decision-making procedures might become unmanageable with many more than the 12 current members. When Sweden applied to join on July 1, he asked: "Must we throw into the wastebasket of history an experience that works in favor of a new intergovernmental organization that might turn out to be a disaster?"

Delors says the EC will not even consider membership applications until Jan. 1, 1993, the target date for turning its 12 member nations into a single market with no national barriers to the movement of goods, services and people.

A further concern is the EC's painstaking search for a formula allowing it to speak with a single voice on matters of foreign and defense policy. If the EC succeeds--and it is by no means certain that it will--such neutral countries as Switzerland and Sweden could find that full EC membership was not for them.

Delors says Sweden will have to choose between neutrality and the European Community, "unless we give up the idea of the EC having a common defense policy. I am not ready to give that up."

The EC has only itself to blame for its magnetic popularity. Its astonishing economic success since it launched its single-market project in 1986 has made it the envy of Europe.

Economic growth in the EC reached 10.4% during the three years from 1988 through 1990, substantially higher than the U.S. rate of 8.1%. (The 12 EC nations are Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain, Portugal and Greece.)

Spain, whose economy has soared since it joined the EC in 1986, has become a role model for poorer non-EC countries.

Likewise, the Scandinavian countries outside the EC like most of what they have seen in Denmark, the only one on the inside. Denmark, by linking the value of its krone to that of the other EC currencies, has squeezed its inflation rate from double digits to barely more than 2%. Its chronic balance-of-payments deficit with the rest of the world has turned into a surplus for the first time since 1963.

"We expect that the beginning of the EC single market in 1993 will give economic growth another boost," says Joergen Birger Christensen, chief economist of Den Danske Bank.

EC membership does not come cost-free. In Denmark, for example, the unemployment rate had been 2% before it hitched its star to the European Community in 1973. Now it is 10.3%.

Christensen argues that Danish unemployment is a product of that country's inefficient labor markets and does not set a pattern that other Scandinavian countries must follow. "There is no horror story waiting for Sweden," he says.

Maybe not for Sweden's overall economy. But in Sweden, as in most of the other countries seeking a home in the European Community, an assortment of special interests is lining up on the other side.

Swedish feminists are one. Their argument goes like this: EC membership would force Sweden to adopt EC-style economic policies. That in turn would emasculate Sweden's welfare-state benefits, which include publicly financed child care and 15 months of paid leave for new mothers. Without those benefits, many women would have to leave the work force.

"Women do not want to be sent back to their kitchens," says Swedish trade union leader Kristina Persson.

Then there are Swedish devotees of chewing tobacco--an estimated 800,000 of them in a nation of more than 8 million. To their alarm, the European Community is considering banning chewing tobacco as a public health menace.

"Of course we are worried," says Lars Kronquist, production manager for Gothia Tobacco in Goteborg. "There are 800,000 consumers in Sweden who want this product."

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