Rising xenophobia could be thorn in future for those who pursue goal of Euro-harmony


Berlin -- Part of the European Community's non-stop ad campaign to sell itself to its citizens is a series of billboards showing three well-dressed young people with varying shades of skin color. Their arms are on one another's shoulders as they dance something resembling the can-can. A huge title, "Europe Becomes One," explains the millenarian message of Euro-harmony and prosperity.

With the coming of 1993, when the EC's economic borders fall and the world's largest single market of 345 million people is created, one wonders why such campaigns are necessary. Hasn't the battle for a single Europe already been won?

On the one hand, yes. There will be a free flow of capital, goods and people in Europe at the end of 1992, an achievement of which even Euro-skeptics have to take notice.

And there seems to be public and political support to go further -- to end the national currencies, central banks and foreign policies that business people and idealists see as hindering commerce and peace.

When asked, most Western Europeans seem to favor economic integration, largely based on the steady stream of pronouncements from economic gurus, whose message that integration equals more prosperity has now become a tenet of folk wisdom.

But despite these signs of widespread support for European integration, it is not at all clear that the public really wants a central Euro-government in Brussels. And even the plan for open borders in 1993 may prove more controversial than imagined once it takes effect.

As the "Europe Becomes One" advertisements show, these underlying tensions have not been lost on Euro-crats, who must be wondering if Europeans are as ready for Ian Johnson writes from Germany. European integration as they claim. But one might also ask oneself: If people do need such convincing, is it wise to force Europe together as its leaders are planning to do over the coming year? Integration may be accepted as gospel, but does it make any sense?

One reason for the apparent haste to build a united Europe so quickly may be the opposition to the plan that could form after the effects of the first phase -- the open internal borders in 1993 -- are felt.

Judging from the mood in many European countries, a complaint could well be that the open borders will draw in people emigrating from one part of the EC to another looking for jobs. To many Europeans who already view their home countries as too full of foreigners, this "free flow of human capital," as it is touted by Euro-friends, may simply turn out to add to the "foreigner problem" that is widely discussed in a Europe that is more provincial and isolated that it likes to admit.

Take Germany as an example. A recent poll by ZDF television showed that 51 percent of Germans feel that there is a "foreigner problem," doubtlessly spurred on by reports of up to 300,000 refugees arriving in Germany this year. Most Germans don't mean Europeans when they think of the flood of refugees, but few people stop to ask dark-haired and olive-skinned people whether they're Greek or Italian (both are in the EC) or Croatians refugees from Yugo slavia, a non-EC European country. Many German people just see darker people and conclude -- irrationally, but none the less with conviction -- that their country is being overrun.

And even if the average person were to know that the darker- or lighter-skinned people (as the case may be) were from the EC, one is tempted to wonder if this would make a difference. Some disaffected youths in Leipzig recently said in an interview, for example, that the next thing that would happen to destroy their ** city would be for Italians to come in and set up a pizzeria. So much for young people dancing to the Euro-beat.

This could be viewed as German, or eastern German racism, but the even more xenophobic reactions of other EC member countries to foreigners show that suspicion of others is no unique German characteristic and not likely to vanish in 1993.

In France, for example, the prime minister has been trying to boost her government's waning popularity by playing on a sure winner: hatred of foreigners. Up to 75,000 refugees should simply be bundled up by the police and flown back to the Third World, she suggested to much applause and a little criticism.

And in Italy, the government is a step ahead of the French by doing just that. In a recent case, the government promised refugees from neighboring Albania (a non-EC European country) that they would get a fair chance of asylum. The next night, however, the government sent in the police, who promptly rounded up the Euro-losers and shipped them back to Albania.

Of course these refugees are not fellow ECers but, again, what Western Europeans actually stop people who look foreign and ask them if they hold the magic red-covered EC passport? Most simply conclude that there are too many foreigners around town -- a phenomenon that is bound to increase with the opened borders. And if the plans for a single market will bring problems of increased ethnic and racial tension, what of plans for more radical EC integration? With so much separating European countries, what sort of glue will hold a European federation together? Simply the desire to send Albanians back to where they came from?

World events show the difficulties that plague multi-national federations such as Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union and Canada. These federations do not have a unifying ethic or common values, so they are falling apart. What would hold the planned European super-state together?

This super-state would need not just free trade and internal immigration but also a common army, money and foreign policy. The latter, especially, is a sticking point: Just witness the community's hesitant and sometimes contradictory reaction to the crisis in Yugoslavia or its extremely slow answer to the coup in Moscow.

The EC, which was largely based on fear of another conflict between Germany and France, has in this respect and many others been phenomenally successfully. As of now, however, there is no evidence that the EC's 12 members are willing to surrender their national powers to a central European government. And there is really no evidence that the peoples who make up the EC want to give up the strong pull of tribalism in favor of a pan-European identity that is based more on what it excludes (refugees and Japanese cars) than what it includes (a vague and slightly ethnocentric view of "European culture").

While a real pan-European identity may develop some day and be strong enough to hold together a European federal government, Western Europe's leaders are too optimistic in thinking that a successful federal Europe can be built within the next few years.

With all these problems greeting Western Europe's ambitious plans to integrate, it's no wonder that ad campaigns are being cranked up to win support and allay racial prejudices. But recently, two men in a Berlin subway station gave a pessimistic but possibly prophetic verdict on the EC's efforts.

As they sat waiting for a train, they stared at the dances-with-youths poster. One gestured at the poster: "What's that?"

"Europe," mumbled his friend.

The first man squinted at the high-stepping trio and then gave a swipe in the air at the poster and said, "Bah!"

Ian Johnson writes from Germany.

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