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It is fashionable now to talk of the growing isolation of Britain‘s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, particularly in her caution …

It is fashionable now to talk of the growing isolation of Britain‘s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, particularly in her caution about the rush for European political union. Her Bruges speech, where she stated her objections to creating powers in Brussels that respective governments would not tolerate in their own capitals, is taken by many as proof that either the British or Thatcher herself isn’t serious about being European.

There’s a certain irony to this. The U.K. is joined only by Holland and Denmark in implementing most of the directives of the 12 EC member countries. Italy and Belgium head the league in scoring the most infringements on EC rulings.

The isolation tag is frequently emphasized by apparatchiks within the EC itself, yet it is amusing to watch EC President Jacques Delors, the great champion of political (as distinct from economic) union. A year ago I heard him speak along with several other high-level European ministers and at least three heads of government at a gathering of business leaders. The others appeared more or less alone and made themselves available to the business leaders in an informal one-on-one way.

Not so with Delors. Surrounded by retainers, aides, advance men, and yes, maybe one interpreter, he upstaged the prime ministers, never mind the others with whom he shared the billing. Needless to say he was too important to condescend to talk to mere chief executives who were kept at arm’s length by the imperial entourage.

It’s interesting to note that Delors’s first visit to Washington in his capacity of EC president had the protocol boys in the White House in a bind. Officially, he isn’t a head of state and thus not deserving the same honors normally accorded, say, Francois Mitterrand, Helmut Kohl, or even the leader of Fiji, but Delors expected full Marine-band, white-glove, Rose Garden treatment.

As one reads this issue’s roundtable, forum and other features focusing on the single European market and the developments in Eastern Europe, it is useful to keep in mind that the debate over Europe is really a philosophical one: will power be controlled at the center or will each member cede to Brussels only that which it could not best accomplish by itself?

It is a debate familiar to Americans and evident in the Federalist papers. Kenneth Minogue, director of the Centre for Policy Studies at the London School of

Economics, writes that the quest for unity is not new: “That Brussels has a passion to regulate is not in doubt. Not even the toys of children have escaped its beady attention…. We already know from the experience of the Common Agricultural Policy that regulation inexorably entails both the growth of bureaucracy and many luxuriant opportunities for corruption. Many of us fear that the new Europe will be strangled in an umbilical cord of red tape even as it is born.”

When French Prime Minister Rocard derides Thatcher’s skepticism about an overzealous bureaucracy as the advocacy of “a Europe of the jungle,” the impression is left that she is alone in her fussiness.

Not heard are similar reservations held elsewhere in Europe but never voiced. Although the price of not unifying is high, many privately fear what Minogue calls, “the Papacy of Brussels.”

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