Scandinavians Skittish about Decision to Join European Union Four Potential Members Eye Europe's Faltering Economy

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A RECENT cartoon in the Paris daily Liberation shows four brides - representing the four countries that could become members of the 12-nation European Union (EU) by January 1995 - approaching the altar of their imminent marriage and demanding, "What's in this for me?"

Though it paints the situation rather inelegantly, the cartoon comes down to the essential question that voters in Austria, Finland, Sweden, and Norway will be asking themselves as they approach referendums on membership later this year. So far, they aren't convinced enough to give a resounding "I do." The Union founders

With the EU, formerly called the European Community, suffering from a particularly poor image because of disappointment over its weak economic performance and its failure to stop the war in ex-Yugoslavia, lofty considerations of the EU as Europe's dominant economic and political organization will play second fiddle to pragmatic judgments about membership's local impact.

People in Scandinavia "can get excited imagining some kind of Nordic alliance, but there's not much dreaming about {the EU}," says Rutger Lindahl, director of the Swedish Institute of International Affairs in Stockholm. "What dominates are questions like whether our labor market would be better off by Sweden joining, or if we'd only import their higher unemployment."

Actually, the Scandinavians and Austrians could still find this year's referendums put off if the EU remains unable to settle an internal battle over how it makes its decisions.

Norway succeeded Tuesday in resolving the question of access by EU members to its fishing waters, allowing it to conclude membership negotiations. But EU ministers failed once again to solve the question of how many votes it will take in the expanded EU to block a majority decision. Ministers will meet again March 22 to try to end their impasse.

If they can't find a solution soon, however, it will be too late for the European Parliament to review the membership agreements before it adjourns for elections in May, and accession by the four would be pushed beyond the Jan. 1 target date.

The voting controversy reveals the Union at its worst, with concerns of domestic political reaction holding up the kind of progress and image boosting - in this case, the Union's enlargement - that the EU desperately needs.

Britain, and to a lesser extent Spain, are refusing any modification in the number of minority votes required to block a majority decision by EU ministers - even though the total number of votes would grow with new members. As a result, the EU would have greater difficulty making decisions, something that would thrill Eurosceptics in Britain's Parliament. …