Keeping the East Europeans Out

Paris—The West is setting up obstacles to the East Europeans’ efforts to help themselves. Enthusiasm for helping the Soviet Union and the Eastern countries is running into a Western unwillingness to accept the costs involved in doing what is seriously needed in the East’s crisis.

The American government is in favor of aid, but not if it involves money from the official budget. The East Europeans are advised to privatize their economies and let nature take its course—as if an economic revolution were to be accomplished by passing laws in East European parliaments. Particularly curious is that the West seems more interested in helping the Russians, who are responsible for putting themselves and the rest of Eastern Europe into this catastrophe, than the East Europeans, who are the Russians’ victims.

Indeed in a significant respect the East Europeans have been the victims of the Western powers as well, since they were handed over to the fait accompli of Soviet domination at the war’s end. There perhaps was little else the Western powers could have done at the time, given the Soviet army’s domination of the region. But one would think the West might today consider itself under a serious residual obligation to help these countries—an obligation they certainly do not have with respect to Moscow, whose crisis is self-inflicted. One wishes the Soviet people well, but in Eastern Europe the crimes were initially committed on Soviet orders, with Soviet guns.

The East Europeans are asking primarily for access to Western markets and investments from the West. They are not getting a great deal of either. It is estimated that more money is being paid annually to the West from the East, in loan interest and loan repayments, than the East European countries have yet received from the West. Poland in 1990 accounted for just 1.1 percent of the external trade of the European Community. Half of what it did export to the EC was in sectors the Community considers “sensitive”—because, for the Community, they are sectors in decline (agriculture, textiles, and iron and steel). These are the sectors in which Poland has a comparative advantage. The same problem exists for other countries.

In early September, the European Community refused an agreement with Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary that would have given their food exports more generous access to West European markets. The agreement would also have prepared the ground for eventual formal ties between the EC and those countries.

France vetoed the agreement. It did so because the derisively small quantity of Polish beef that would have entered the EC under the agreement inconvenienced French beef producers. The French now are in an acrimonious run-up to legislative elections in 1992, when the governing Socialists expect to be in serious danger. The farm vote ordinarily does not go to Socialists. Now it might.

Electoral cynicism has some limit for a government which ordinarily protests itself motivated by higher considerations than sheer self-interest. President Mitterrand …

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