HAMBURG: Politicians are famous for irresolution. Occasionally, however, they use a device that forces them to stick to their promises -- the deadline. In journalism if you miss a deadline, your article will not be published. In politics, fixed deadlines become a force for resolution, often independent of the wisdom of the decision for which a deadline was set.
Two recent examples, both of vital importance to the future structure of Europe, exemplify the advantages and risk in "deadline" diplomacy: Nato expansion and introduction of a common European currency, EMU.
No formal date for Nato enlargement exists, but with every statement from Western leaders, the date for opening the alliance to East Europe's democracies moves closer. In January 1994, Nato's leaders accepted in principle that the alliance should not be a closed shop. A year later, foreign ministers began to study the modalities of enlargement. These were completed last autumn. All country's interested in Nato expansion have been informed of these findings. In the next half-year or so, Nato must tackle the thorniest question: whom to admit, and when. True, no date has been fixed. But Nato has by now issued so many political IOUs that it cannot delay honoring them much longer.
As for EMU, the date is set: on January 1, 1999 EU members that meet the conditions for EMU membership will transfer monetary authority to the new European Central Bank and within 3 years replace their national currencies with a new European currency the "Euro".