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Britons debate what kind of 'community' Europe should be

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The leading nations of Western Europe will soon be required to make a series of decisions that will determine their political future for years to come. They must determine whether the 10-nation European Community will be the matrix of their attempts to achieve unity - or choose some other framework for collective endeavor.

Ironically, it is in Britain - for the past decade the EC's enfant terrible - that debate about Europe's future is at its most intense.

Leaders of all main political groups in the British Parliament have been weighing in with radical ideas about what Europeans should be trying to achieve in an era of East-West confrontation and world recession.

In a speech in Brussels the foreign secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, began by declaring, ''I am a European,'' and proceeded to argue that, instead of focusing on narrow economic issues, the EC should find a stronger and more persuasive political voice in world affairs.

The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Neil Kinnock, contributed the thought that the European Community is not truly European. Kinnock, leader of a party whose attitude toward the EC has tended to swing between ambivalence and downright hostility, called for a new European conference at which the future of the continent could be charted. East as well as West European states should be invited to attend, he suggested.

Next the joint leader of the Social Democratic-Liberal alliance, David Owen, stepped up to the rostrum to assail the ''sterility'' of the current European debate. A former Labour foreign secretary, Dr. Owen proposed that the EC should move beyond economic concerns and seek unity also in a program of coordinated defense and security, separate from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Intervention by these three ''heavyweight'' politicians in the debate about Europe comes at a moment when the Community is in deep crisis over its internal finances.

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