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Europe: The EU Never Stops Wranglin'

  • Joel Blocker

Brussels, 11 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Here's a brief round-up of some recent developments in the European Union. They concern Turkey, an upcoming summit on reducing unemployment and prospects for the European Central Bank that will be created along with the new single currency, the "euro," in 14 months. All three reflect disunity in the Union.

Turkey, a perennial aspirant for EU membership, edged closer yesterday to active association with the 15-nation group. But it remains a pariah nation when it comes to full entry.

At a Brussels meeting of EU foreign ministers, Germany lifted its opposition to Ankara participating in a planned standing "European Conference" that will bring together all existing members and 11 applicant countries -- 10 Central and East European candidates plus Cyprus. Germany's Klaus Kinkel said his country considered the conference, due to get underway in London in February, as purely a "forum for dialogue" and not as a part of the accession process. Bonn would therefore cease blocking the creation of the conference. But Kinkel's Greek counterpart, Theodorus Pangalos, said there was, in his words, "no way" that Athens would accept Ankara's participation in the conference. EU decisions on such matters are taken only by consensus.

Germany and Greece are two big reasons why Turkey's aspirations for EU membership are unlikely to be realized in the foreseeable future. Germany is the only European country to award citizenship largely on the basis of ethnic origin rather than birth or residence. Today it has 2.1 million residents of Turkish origin, many born in Germany but few of whom are citizens. All of them, however, plus additional Turkish immigrants, would gain permanent work and residency rights if Ankara gained EU entry - -a highly sensitive political issue in Germany.

Greece, Turkey's historic adversary neighbor, remains at loggerheads with Turkey over Cyprus' future status and its EU candidacy, as well as over territorial disputes in the Mediterranean and Ankara's human-rights record. Most other EU members have reservations as well on the human-rights question. And the Union's Christian Democratic parties have publicly stated it should remain "European," thereby excluding a nation of 60 million Moslems.

Two Brussels ministerial meetings last week indicated that the EU's special summit on jobs scheduled to be held in 10 days (Nov. 20-21), is likely to be more of a rhetorical than substantive exercise.

The Union's finance and social-affairs ministers agreed not to set concrete goals for reducing the record EU-wide 11.1 unemployment rate. Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, the current EU president, admitted "there are big differences among us" that prevented adoption of most of the 19 remedies for joblessness proposed by its own Executive Commission. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, facing elections next year, opposes any additional outlay of EU money to create jobs, even though his country has its highest unemployment rate in 60 years.

The jobs summit is being held at France's instigation. At the EU summit in Amsterdam four months ago, the just-elected Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin made the summit its price for accepting the German-inspired "stability pact" that imposes strict financial disciple on members joining the coming single currency. But some economic analysts believe that legislation mandating a 35-hour work-week recently introduced in France, and soon to be imitated in Italy, will probably increase lay-offs in both countries. They say it will create what they call "a negative psychology" among businessmen, triggering more investments outside the EU.

France and Germany, as well as the Netherlands, are also involved in a nasty dispute over who will head the forthcoming European Central Bank (ECB). Until last week, everyone assumed it would be a Dutchman, Wim Duisenberg, the respected president of the ECB's existing forerunner, the European Monetary Institute (EMI). Everyone, that is, except French President Jacques Chirac, who in a transparent effort to block Duisenberg's appointment last week put forward his own candidate, Bank of France head Jean-Claude Trichet.

This not only made the Dutch furious but also angered the Germans, who had supported Duisenberg's candidacy. The result is that neither Duisenberg nor Trichet seems likely to get the job. Rather, the smart money is now being put on a Spaniard, Luis Rojo, head of his country's central bank and vice-president of the EMI.

Why did Chirac make his characteristically impulsive move? Analysts cite two reasons: First, Chirac is said to be again venting his spleen against the Dutch Government for its permissive policy towards so-called "soft" drugs, which he -- but not many others -- holds responsible for their increasing use in France. Second, Trichet's candidacy could either position him for a possible number-two job in the new EU central bank or make a Frenchman the likeliest successor to whomever is chosen as the ECB's first president.

So it goes in the EU.