British Prime Minister John Major, in total repudiation of predecessor Margaret Thatcher, has declared he wants his country to be "where it belongs, at the very heart of Europe." Not only that. He uttered these words in Germany, and he did so just three days after Mrs. Thatcher was in the United States warning against "a federal European superstate" that would be dominated by Germany.
So great is the rift thus opened in Tory ranks that the London Financial Times reports Mrs. Thatcher may break publicly with her supposed protege if Mr. Major accepts a significant loss of British sovereignty to the European Community.
For the United States, the profound rejuggling of European relationships suggested by Mr. Major's speech will have an unavoidable impact on trans-Atlantic relationships. During the Thatcher years, the British government was outspoken in the primacy it attached to the American connection and in its suspicions of an ascendant, united Germany. Mrs. Thatcher's reluctance to commit her country to the political and monetary union goals of the EC proved the final pretext for her forced exit from 10 Downing Street last November.
With a large American drawdown of its military presence in NATO in the offing and U.S. trade negotiators in open conflict with the EC over its protectionist agricultural policies, Britain was widely considered the one European country we could count on. It was, after all, the most stalwart of allies during the gulf war, in contrast to the go-it-alone tendencies of France and the refusal of Germany to play a military role.
Yet President Bush, in contrast to some of his predecessors, has been careful not to affront Germany. He was Chancellor Helmut Kohl's constant backer during the fast drive for German unification and refused to carp at Germany during the gulf conflict. Like Mr. Major, he appears to consider united Germany too central and powerful a player in the European theater to indulge in emotions left over from World War II.
Nation states, after all, do not have permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests.
In Mr. Major's break from Thatcherism, there is an attempt to draw Germany away from the France-led rush toward monetary union and a single European currency. Rather than reject these goals outright, the prime minister aligned himself with Bonn's latest tendency to go slow. Germany now faces such daunting strains in the multi-trillion mark rebuilding of former East German states that its EC agenda must be down-shifted.
Americans need not be too concerned over Anglo-German rapprochement. If Mr. Major is prepared to have Britain's voice heard from within rather from without Europe's inner councils, we can be sure it will be a voice for Atlantic community, for open markets and for strong world leadership on the part of the western democracies.