Europeans may be losing a friend in Haig, but gaining another in Shultz
''Not at all,'' replied a West German diplomat when asked how he liked the news about Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr.'s resignation. But then he amended his gloom to say he was ''relieved'' by the appointment of George P. Shultz as Haig's replacement.
His views were echoed in comments by French and British diplomats contacted, and also in the more guarded public statements of West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher.
Western European governments feel they have lost a valued friend in Haig. But they think they are gaining another in Shultz. And they have hopes that Shultz will be able to steer his way through the White House and Washington bureaucracies with fewer fireworks than Haig.
At the same time Western Europeans are worried by the erratic process of decisionmaking in Washington, and fear that this will continue for the rest of the Reagan administration.
For its part, the United States has been at pains to assure the Europeans that there will be no changes in policy because of the change of persons, and that continuity and stability will be the watchwords in US foreign policy.
Messages to this effect from Mr. Haig himself and from US Ambassador Arthur Burns were read after the Haig resignation to senior West German, French, and British diplomats gathered at a security conference at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Bonn.
In policy terms, the Europeans hope that Mr. Haig's departure was occasioned by differences over Middle East policy within the Reagan administration and not by differences over European policy.
The Europeans are appalled by the American tolerance of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the subsequent civilian casualties in the attempt to rout the PLO. They associate Mr. Haig with American softness toward Israel, and they would like to see a change here.
In East-West relations, however, the Europeans were stunned by the bombshell Reagan administration decision this month to expand the American ban on export of US compressor technology to the Soviet Union to cover overseas holders of American licenses. They associate Mr. Haig with opposition to this assertion of extraterritoriality. They hope that his departure will not give free rein to a tough application of what they regard as an illegal assertion of American jurisdiction abroad.
In personal terms, the Europeans already know and respect Mr. Shultz. He and Mr. Schmidt know each other from the days when they headed their countries' respective finance ministries. Mr. Shultz saw Mr. Schmidt and French President Francois Mitterrand most recently when he toured Europe a few weeks ago for Mr. Reagan to prepare for the Versailles economic summit.
In bureaucratic terms, the Europeans hope that Mr. Shultz can steer the US through the Lebanon crisis and that after that no major world crisis will arise in the months it will take him to master the Washington bureaucracy and network of relations, especially with presidential security adviser William Clark.
In this period the Europeans would be wary of any attempt by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger to make a quick bureaucratic strike for his more anti-European policy preferences or for a harder line toward Moscow.
What probably worries the Europeans most of all is the policy instability within the Reagan administration, with ad hoc majorities being formed on each new issue that arises without any attempt to fit the new decision into the pattern of previous decisions.
For Europeans the most alarming example of this was Washington's gas pipeline compressor decision, which seemed to have resulted in part from the chance absence of Mr. Haig at a crucial meeting.