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The Year Of Europe

HAMBURG: History works in leaps and bounds. After WWII ended, it took a few years before new European structures emerged, but they fell into place between 1948 and 1950. When the Cold War ended abruptly in 1989, elements of a new order were slow to materialize. Now, in 1997, they are seeming to come together. This will be a make-or-break year for Europe. If it looks more like make than break, it will nevertheless be a close call.

Chances are strong that NATO and the EU will begin to open themselves to the new democracies in Eastern Europe. Simultaneously, elements for a new relationship between Russia and NATO are emerging, as well as a new structure for the Atlantic Alliance that assures continuing US involvement through a greater European willingness to shoulder part of the security burden. And for the EU, depressed under a cloud of Euro-scepticism, 1997 could mean the breakthrough to a confident and enterprising Union by providing its most ambitious project to date -- monetary union and a common currency.

Deadlines for these steps are all squeezed into the next ten months. In mid-June, members of the EU plan to sign a new treaty to give greater cohesion to their cooperation, thus making the Union ready for negotiations with those countries that want to join. These talks are to begin in early 1998. In July, the heads of the 18 NATO governments will invite Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to join the Western Alliance, with others to follow. By then a new division of labor between the US and Europe should be worked out, enhancing European responsibility for low-level conflicts in and around the continent. To make sure NATO enlargement will not lead to a new European divide, an institutional link between Russia and NATO could be in place. Finally, 1997 will determine which EU countries qualify for monetary union. Fiscal and economic performance during the year will provide the basis for that decision, to be taken in early 1998, with monetary union beginning January 1, 1999.

Each step has uncertainties. While a summit in Madrid will signal NATO’s opening to the East, it is not clear what steps will follow and when. Negotiations with the first three aspirants will have to be ratified both by them and by NATO’s’s sixteen parliaments. Will all agree to extend their security commitment to the new members? Other member countries could exact concessions; Turkey, a long-standing NATO member of increasing strategic importance has made her consent for opening NATO dependent on herself being admitted to the EU.