Nineteen ninety-three was to be a banner year for Europe. With the opening of the Single Market people would cross frontiers without visas and goods would flow unhindered by tariffs. It would be a triumphant year for the European Economic Community, marked by a quickening of the pace toward full integration. With the Maastricht treaty ratified by its twelve member states, the prospect of one currency and one central bank by the year 2000, and the rudiments of a joint foreign policy and joint defense, the E.E.C. was to move toward some form of federation that could stand up to the United States and Japan and act as a magnet for the rest of the Continent-first, the prosperous Swiss, Austrians, Finns and Swedes, later the wannabes of Eastern Europe.
Then, suddenly, this glittering scenario fell to pieces. Last June, the Danish people rejected the Maastricht treaty in a referendum. Three months later, the French gave the treaty the most reluctant of approvals. Then the Swiss, through a negative vote in a preliminary referendum, showed that the outside nations’ interest In joining was not as enthusiastic as had been thought.
Last month, the leaders of the Twelve met in Edinburgh to see what could be salvaged. The upshot was that the Danes were offered special treatment In the hope that next May they will reverse their verdict. Prime Minister John Major promised that the British Parliament would follow suit and ratify the treaty. Having reached a deal, the heads of government departed, relieved. But more is involved in this rewritten script than Just a change in the timetable. The single market was duly inaugurated on January 1 but under very gloomy auspices.
Let us try to draw some lessons for the future from the recent drama. It clearly confirmed the crucial role of the reunified Germany, which was both the cause of the crisis and the decisive (or undecided) actor in all of its stages. The strong mark and the Bundesbank’s high interest rates were at the heart of the financial storm that wrecked Europe’s Exchange Rate Mechanism, raising doubts about its future shape and even its survival. The other unfinished confrontation–in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) negotiations, particularly over agriculture–revealed how far the E.E.C. has traveled since Its early semirural days. It also showed how deeply it remains split between those who, like the French, favor a closely integrated community and others, notably the British, who are reluctant to go much beyond a free-trade area. Thus deeply divided, Europe proved impotent to handle external tragedies like Bosnia and Somalia; potentially an economic giant, it is still a political pygmy.
Yet probably the most significant development has been the revolt of the people. Europe was built hitherto by big business and for big business, the politicians and technocrats cleverly preparing the institutional framework for a stage-by-stage advance. This institutional construction from above has now met popular resistance. It would be nice to report that this spells a revival of the left, the building of a Europe from below, by the people and for the people. Nice but, to put it optimistically, premature.