Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Elections for European Parliament Mark Crucial Juncture for Union

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Elections for European Parliament Mark Crucial Juncture for Union

Article excerpt

CONFRONTED by vociferous skeptics, the European Union finds itself at a critical juncture as it strives to deepen integration efforts.

Beginning with European Parliament elections, the citizens and politicians of Europe will make decisions over the next few months that will go a long way in determining how large and homogenized the EU will become.

The vote to fill the 567-member European Parliament is on June 9 in Britain, Ireland, Denmark, and the Netherlands, and June 12 in the other EU nations. Also on June 12, Austria will hold a national referendum on joining the European Union.

The Euro-Parliament election is the first since the Maastricht Treaty on European Union took effect last November. At that time, it appeared the pact would put Europe on the fast track to federalization. But since then, opposition to complete integration - particularly the introduction of a common currency - has become more vocal, and many national governments have cooled on the idea of a federal Europe.

"A centralized Europe is no Europe - it's a communist model It's absolutely Utopian," says Manfred Brunner, a former European bureaucrat in Brussels who has emerged as the Maastricht Treaty's most high-profile critic in Germany.

Mr. Brunner, who now heads the right-wing Union of Free Citizens movement, has been pilloried by the German left, which asserts he harbors a hidden agenda based on antiforeigner nationalism. Brunner counters that he favors closer cooperation among European states, but not in a federal arrangement. "The character of Europe requires a confederation because of the cultural differences. It's not suited to the American model," he says.

The level of support that Brunner's movement - along with other radical or "protest" parties on both left and right - receives in the Euro-Parliament vote will send an important signal to EU decision-makers. A strong protest vote or a low level of participation could cause some important proponents of EU integration, such as German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, to reconsider EU policies, observers say.

Many in Germany, the economic engine of the EU, consider the Euro-Parliament result an important litmus test for the German federal elections in October. Mr. Kohl faces a tough reelection battle in October and thus is likely to tread carefully on the EU issue if a significant number of Germans vote against his Christian Democratic Union on June 12. That, in turn, could affect the EU, as Germany in July will assume the rotating EU presidency and responsibility for setting the European agenda until the end of 1994. …

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