By Howard LaFranchi, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
EVER since the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, supporters of a Western European embrace of the new democracies of Eastern Europe have said the European Community is too self-absorbed, and would miss a historic opportunity to unify Europe.
In its determination to pursue its own political and economic integration before admitting any new members, the Community was compared to a group of feasting rich men leaving their pauper neighbors to beg and quarrel in the cold.
Like most characterizations, that one was an exaggeration. And last week's lunch here - bringing together the 12 foreign ministers from EC member countries and their counterparts from the three newly independent Baltic states - illustrates how things have changed for the EC, and Europe in general, since the failed Soviet coup of Aug. 19.
Circumstances have forced the Community to open the banquet room door, and from now on the EC is going to find new Europeans at its table.
Instead of "deepening" its own economic and political integration before "widening" its membership, the Community is now likely to have to juggle the two acts. "Ideally, we should change the (Community's) institutional structure first and then tackle enlargement," says Frans Andriessen, EC external affairs commissioner. "Now we shall have to do both together."
"Our problem," says Pascal Lamy, head of Cabinet for EC Commission President Jacques Delors, "is going to be how to (mesh) our internal drive toward integration (with) a constructive response to events in the East."
But a sign of just how difficult the inclusion of Eastern Europe is likely to be came last week when the EC Commission, trying to negotiate special association agreements with Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary, asked EC foreign ministers to lower trade barriers to these countries' most competitive products.
France, backed by Belgium and Ireland, balked at opening EC markets to eastern beef and lamb meat at a time when its own farmers are battling higher imports. Protests from Portugal put off a proposal for phasing out quotas on the three countries' textiles.
"We're sending a very negative message to the countries to our east," said Dutch Foreign Minister Hans van den Broeck.
The Community is sending more positive messages to other potential European members, those in the affluent European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Two EFTA members, Austria and Sweden, have already applied for membership. …