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Push for Partial Europe Union Raises Ire : Diplomacy: Germans suggest those that are ready proceed with joint policy. Other nations protest affront.

November 06, 1994|TYLER MARSHALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BRUSSELS — It has been weeks since the latest salvos were fired in the debate about how best to move forward with the job of uniting Europe, but echoes continue to reverberate through the corridors of Continental power.

The noise is likely to grow only louder in the months ahead.

A group of German members of Parliament headed by two of Chancellor Helmut Kohl's closest confidants caused the biggest stir by detailing publicly what even the most ardent advocates of closer European integration have been saying in private--that a core of economically strong, politically committed European Union countries should move toward full monetary and political union, leaving the door open for others to join when they are ready and willing.

The intensity of the reaction to the Germans' proposal is based in part on the lawmakers involved--they are respected, influential and close to Kohl's thinking; they include his possible successor, Wolfgang Schaeuble.

But the Germans also caused a stir because they named the countries they believe should belong to the core: Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Those left out, especially larger countries such as Italy, Spain and Britain, reacted to what they considered a major affront.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi telephoned Kohl to complain, and British Prime Minister John Major said in a speech that he "recoiled from ideas of a union in which some would be more equal than others."

Because the German idea was floated only days after French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur advocated in more diplomatic language a similar plan, some worry that Bonn and Paris may be trying to hijack the integration process for their own ends.

"There's always some mistrust of larger countries, and this hasn't helped, but how else can one manage a union of 20 nations?" asked Bernard van Praag, director of Amsterdam University's Institute for Economic Research.

The debate is important because it unfolds as the 12-nation European Union prepares for a major review of the Maastricht Treaty, which commits the members to monetary and political union by the decade's end.

While the review is not scheduled to occur until 1996, the issues are so basic to the Continent's future that they have been discussed virtually since the treaty took force last year.

Now the discussion is growing more intense. "This debate is forcing people to come to grips with the fundamental issue of what kind of Europe we are going to have," said Susie Symes, who heads the European program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. "Is there going to be a two-speed Europe? Is there going to be a core group? There is a great deal of realistic thinking going on now."

Talk of a "two-speed Europe," an idea viewed as heresy among advocates of integration only a few years ago, has been pushed to the fore by compelling realities, including:

* The EU is rapidly enlarging, with membership coming to at least 14 and possibly 16 states by January and potentially to 20 by the decade's end, when Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic hope to join.

* The large differences in social, political and economic development between nations such as Germany and Greece or Slovakia pose significant risks to the creation of a viable monetary and political union. The impact of Germany's 1990 currency union on the weaker eastern region has heightened the awareness of these dangers.

* It is increasingly clear that only a handful of countries are expected to meet the tough fiscal criteria needed to qualify for monetary union; only Luxembourg and Ireland qualify, although some others, including Germany and France, are expected to meet the standards.

"The creation of a core group is not an end in itself," the German lawmakers stressed in a collective statement, "but a way to counter centrifugal forces and keep to the undisputed goals of expansion and deeper integration."

Critics of a "multiple-speed Europe" claim that it flies in the face of the underlying political principle of equality, a principle that drove the fathers of European unity.

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