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Before 1992 Came '89

Until a short time ago, forward-looking thinking in Western Europe focused on 1992 - when plans to create a single internal market are to culminate. The elimination of trade barriers and customs checkpoints from Manchester to Milan, coupled with closer monetary and - it seems inevitable - political coordination, promised to open a brilliant new chapter in European history. Meantime, the intervening challenges were enough to absorb all the energies and imagination of West Europe's leaders. The exhilarating tumult in the East bloc - especially the breaching of the Berlin Wall and its implications for the German future - hasn't exactly pushed 1992 to the back burner. Developments behind the Iron Curtain have, however, introduced new variables into Europe's calculations.

For one thing, the Berlin bombshell might divert Bonn's attention eastward. Even before political reunification receives serious thought, the two Germanys will actively explore greater economic integration. Bonn, though it avowedly remains committed to 1992, may resist binding obligations in the West that constrain its flexibility in the East. This has more than a few planners in Brussels and Paris edgy.

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Since the configurations of the European Community and NATO have largely coincided, military considerations haven't conflicted with the impulse to tighter European unity. A West Europe integrated under the principles of 1992 could still be expected to respond reliably to a security threat from the East.

But as liberalization proceeds in the East bloc, pressures may grow to create an economic federation embracing both Western and Central Europe. European institutions that include, say, Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria - whether as members of the Warsaw Pact or as neutrals - will have objectives that could clash with the NATO military alliance.

The people of Western Europe have reacted joyously and generously to the crumbling of the Soviet empire. Yet they recognize that planning for their own future - in which 1992 seemed to hold most of the answers and there was no ``German question'' - has become as complex as a three-dimensional chess game.

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