Poland: Europe catches its breath; EC leaders call for food aid to Poland, clearer US policy
Maastricht, the Netherlands
Still struggling to find a coherent and effective voice on world affairs, European leaders in their summit here: 1. Heard (and formally echoed) a strong plea from West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, just back from talks in Warsaw, to provide more Community food aid to Poland as one way of trying to avoid a Soviet invasion.
2. Privately conceded it was taking longer than expected for the Reagan administration in Washington to hammer out agreed US policies on the Soviet Union, Western Europe, the Mideast, and elsewhere.
3. Worried that President Reagan's strategic interest in South Africa as an anticommunist ally means that hopes for an independent Namibia any time soon have been set back.
Europe's leaders returned to foreign affairs on the final day of their summit in this attractive corner of Holland, after spending the first day on internal economic conflicts centered on fish, steel, and farm prices.
A final summary of discussions was predictably bland, reflecting little of the substance of private talks among heads of govenment and their foreign ministers. The clash on fish took up much time and energy, with little progress made, and the issue was referred to a commission of experts to meet March 27.
A key nation here was West Germany. Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and Mr. GEnscher operated from the basis that Bonn could no longer be the "rich uncle" of Europe.
On Poland, the West German line in private was that Bonn was ready to increase its own aid, and that the European Community (EC) should agree to provide more food. Better to have countries like France divert some of its wheat and meat to Poland than to sell them to the Soviet Union, Mr. Genscher maintained.
Moreover, he raised the issue of whether the Community should joint with the US, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, and possibly Yugoslavia to help ease Poland's massive debt repayments to the West.
British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington said March 24 Poland needed about $ 1 billion more of refinancing aid to tide it over until July, and food aid besides. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said the Community would consider what it could do.
A Community declaration at the end of the summit said leaders had called upon the European Council, the Commission, and other countries taking part in refinancing discussions in Paris to examine Poland's needs as soon as possible. The summit urged Community members to "decide on their participation as a matter of urgency."
Leaders were greatly concerned at new tension between the Polish government and the Solidarity trade union movement. It was recognized that any Soviet military moves against Poland would, among other things, strike at the roots of West Germany's policies of contacts and trade with Eastern Europe as a whole.
France sold about 600,000 tons of grain to Moscow last year and is seeking EC approval to do the same this year. The West Germans now seem to be saying Poland should have urgent priority.
Looking at the Reagan team in Washington, sources in three major delegations here speculated privately on why first hard-line and then more moderate statements keep on emerging two months after the inauguration.
Some sources see the process as a profound struggle for Mr. Reagan's ear between such far-right figures as Richard Pipes and Richard Allen on the White House National Security Council, and what the sources see as the more moderate and realistic figure of Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr.
Other sources wonder if the chorus of contradictory voices is merely the usual confusion Europeans have come (resignedly) to expect every time the US votes in a new administration.
British, French, and West German delegations refused to comment on the statement by Mr. Allen on the eve of the Maastricht summit that Europe was dangerously pacifist toward the Soviet Union.
The delegations still hope Mr. Reagan will put an end to conflicting statements and that Mr. Haig will emerge as the single strong voice, next to the President, on all foreign policy issues.
Europeans generally want Mr. Reagan to push for arms control with Moscow while increasing US defense spending. They don't want to spend more on defense themselves at a time of recession, inflation, and high energy prices, but they are braced for more US pressure to do so.
Looking at black and southern Africa, the feeling here was that Mr. Reagan is far less opposed to Pretoria than Jimmy Carter's human rights administration was.
Said one well informed insider, "We have no wish to pressure the Reagan administration. To do so at this time might be counterproductive. But time is not on our side. Of the issues before us, we probably have less time on Namibia than on others. We think it wise to move along."
Behind the words lies a dawning European realization that Mr. Reagan is simply not going to pressure Pretoria to reach a sett lement on Namibia acceptable to black Africa.