The Dawn of European Economic Unity: What It Means for Libraries

Article excerpt

On January 1, 1993, in Berlin, Germany, a new colossus will emerge on the world stage. The 12 members of the European Community (EC)--Portugal, Spain, Denmark, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Luxemburg, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom--will remove technical and economic barriers that exist between them and became a single European market. In effect, the EC (also known either as the Common Market or the European Economic Community) will dawn as a frontierless society.

Money, workers, goods, and services will flow freely between the countries. Citizens of the United States of Europe, as some are calling the emerging political entity, will no longer need passports to travel between member countries. The money they spend will be a new common currency called the ECU (European currency unit). The taxes of the 12 countries will be unified.

The momentous event has also become known as Europe 1992, and it will create a giant European market of 320 million consumers, which U.S. political leaders say will constitute an imposing economic challenge to the U.S. and Japan. "The economic integration of Western Europe is the most important event of our times, more important than even the events in Eastern Europe," says George Mitchell, U.S. Senate Majority Leader.

Librarians in the 12 EC countries, like most of their fellow citizens, are enthusiastic about Europe 1992 and its implications for their way of life, families, careers, and countries. "It should have taken place years ago," says Derek Handley, librarian at the British Council Library in Berlin. "It's the best thing that has ever happened to Western Europe."

Hans Van Velzen, managing director of the Amsterdam Public Library, the Netherlands' largest public library, agrees. "Now, it is very important to look outward and to be European in our thinking," he says.

EC librarians, though, don't expect Europe 1992 to bring an immediate and drastic change in the way they do business. "A lot of rubbish has been said and written about the coming of Europe 1992," says George Cunningham, chief executive officer of the Library Association of the United Kingdom and a former member of the European Parliament. "Nothing startling will happen overnight. Rather, there will be gradual move towards greater integration of services and resource sharing."

This side of the Atlantic

Librarians on this side of the Atlantic who are familiar with the European library scene say that Europe 1992 should have significant implications for the profession at the international level. "We have come a long way in libraries as far as sharing data is concerned," says Henriette Avram, associate librarian for collection services at the Library of Congress, recently retired (AL, July/Aug. 1991, p. 688). "In fact, we've come further than any other information community. I think Europe 1992 will accelerate that effort."

France, Italy, Belgium, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, and West Germany had a dream in 1957 when they signed the Treaty of Rome, creating what was then called the European Economic Community. One day, they hoped to form a common market free of all restrictions. It wasn't until member countries ratified the Single European Act in 1986, however, that the way was paved for Europe 1992.

In the early years, the EC concentrated on such economic matters as making sure member countries had the same external tariffs, gradually abolishing tariffs between member states and implementing a common agricultural policy. Until recently, the EC paid little serious attention to areas like libraries, culture, and education, although it had every intention of eventually controlling those areas, as well as many others that were the exclusive responsibility of the member states.

"The Community has significantly adopted policies and created Community law on matters affecting libraries and information services," Cunningham explains. …