Trouble is no stranger in Brussels. From the beginning, the European Economic Community has lived from crisis to crisis. One ought not, therefore, to conclude, simply because the Community is now confronted by rapidly mounting agricultural surpluses and a serious disequilibrium between the French franc and the German mark, that this resourceful institution is in serious trouble. And conversely, one should not assume that President de Gaulle's retirement will put things right.
In recent years the Community's problems have indeed worsened. Basic assumptions previously unquestioned, such as the irreversibility of economic integration, have been overtaken by events. The morale of that formerly optimistic and uniquely creative organization, the Commission, has declined. The "Community spirit" has deteriorated. The "Community method" no longer seems to work. Few qualified observers believe any longer that the ultimate creation of the "single market" or economic union, contemplated by the Rome Treaty, is a reasonably sure thing.
Certainly, de Gaulle's negative attitude toward the Community and toward its underlying aim of political unification contributed to this state of affairs. But the Community has problems more fundamental than de Gaulle. Conflicts of economic interest among the member governments have sharpened, while the Community's ability to compromise differences and get on with economic unification has diminished. In consequence, economic integration in Western Europe may have reached its high-water mark. Increasing difficulties and, possibly, retrogression are likely.
During its first years, the Community enjoyed economic conditions peculiarly favorable to progress toward the goals set by the Rome Treaty. These were years of rapid, uninterrupted economic expansion in Western Europe. The Community's first task under the Treaty was to create a customs union to eliminate tariffs and other barriers to the international flow of industrial products within the Community and to erect a common external tariff. The expansive economic environment meant that the problem of competitive adjustment to trade liberalization was far less serious than had been anticipated.
A second favorable factor was that the members of the Community all had
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