US CONSULATE CLOSINGS. Pro-American Strasbourg wants US to stay
Francoise Elkouby will miss the hamburgers, the hot dogs, and the corn on the cob. To save money, the United States State Department announced the closing last week of the US Consulate in Ms. Elkouby's hometown, Strasbourg, France. Seven other consulates also will be closed this year, five in Europe: Gotborg in Sweden, Dusseldorf in West Germany, Salzburg in Austria, and Turin in Italy.
For Elkouby, the decision means no more July 4 parties in the consulate gardens, and no more good American food. So Strasbourg's public relations director is campaigning to save the consulate.
Letters have been sent to President Reagan and French politicians, including President Francois Mitterrand and Prime Minister Jacques Chirac. A demonstration is scheduled for today outside the consulate.
``Everywhere we read, `US go home. Well, here we're going to march, saying, `US stay here,''' Elkouby says.
But US officials say they have no choice. Because of the huge federal budget deficit, Congress has said the State Department funds must be cut.
Strasbourg, however, does not accept this reasoning. From a budgetary view, officials say the closure will not save much money, perhaps $100,000 or $200,000. The State Department's total operations budget runs to more than $200 million.
For this reason, some diplomats believe the consulate is being sacrificed out of State Department pique toward Congress. Numerous congressional delegations visit Strasbourg annually. They come to work at one of the city's European institutions, such as the Council of Europe, and have the opportunity to enjoy the city's stunning Alsatian architecture and superb cuisine.
``They could have shut the consulate in in Lumbumbashi, Zaire, but how many people would care? Cutting Strasbourg has more impact in Congress,'' one official says.
It also may have an impact on US-European relations. US officials say the US Embassy in Brussels will be able to follow events at the Common Market. Officials in Strasbourg disagree. They fear that withdrawing a consulate could mean the US is preparing a larger withdrawal from Europe. At the very least, they say, the US presence in European institutions which have no connection with the European Community will be compromised.
``With European-American relations at a particularly delicate moment'' because of the negotiations over US nuclear forces on the continent, ``the consulate must be retained in Strasbourg,'' says Jacques Baumel, chairman of the Council of Europe's Political Commission.
The US decision has provoked a huge public outcry. Strasbourg and its surroundings are profoundly pro-American. After the area was annexed by Germany in 1870, many unhappy Alsatians emigrated to the US. During both world wars, US soldiers fought in the area. Four military cemeteries mark their sacrifice.
Without the consulate, Alsatians will have less contact with American culture. Although the consulate does not give visas, it arranges concerts and lectures. This year's main theme is the US Constitution's 200th anniversary.