Americans who say "I don't know," when asked about the European Common Market belong to a sizable majority. A recent Gallup Poll found that more than two-thirds of the American public - 71 percent to be exact - has never even heard of the Common Market.

Actually the Common Market - formally called the European Economic Community, or EEC - was founded in 1958 by six nations: Belgium, France, Italy, West Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. They formed a customs union wherein industrial goods and farm produce could move freely, without tariff, among the members, while goods imported from non-member countries were subject to a common tariff. This move was undertaken to benefit themselves economically. Five years later the six Common Market members were joined by Britain, Denmark and Ireland.The Common Market owes its existence to men of vision who dreamed of a United Europe. During World War I, Jean Monnet, a native of France as well as an international wine merchant, economic planner and statesman, tried to bridge the frontiers separating Europeans. He encouraged Britain and France to procure and purchase supplies for their armed forces. They did not accept his plan then but did to some extent in World War II. Even in 1820 when Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled to St. Helena, he said, in defense of his ambitions, "I wanted to found a European system . . . one people throughout Europe."

Today, the Common Market's nine European members constitute the world's largest single trading bloc. They have a targeted deadline of Dec. 31, 1992, for cutting all trade barriers in Europe, and possibly in Asia, countries which have a combined selling and purchasing unit of 320 million people. Their goal is to form a single political, social, economic and monetary union, the European Community.

Travelers in Europe could find it beneficial if there were a common currency there. One tourist reported that in his tour of 10 European countries he had to exchange money at the 10 borders and pay a resultant tax for the exchange each time. "Good or bad, the movement toward a unified market appears unstoppable," according to the Wall Street Journal.

Jean Monnet, the French statesman, has been a friend to America and a counselor to American statesmen from Cordell Hull to Henry Kissenger. He envisioned a "United States of Europe," not as a rival but as a partner of the "United States of America." He said, "Americans should understand better than anyone the benefits for Europe and the world of a peaceful revolution that is taking place in Europe, for America, too, is a common market whose states apply common laws throughout their common federal institutions." (From "The Common Market" by Nancy L. Hoepli.)

There are actually three organizations combining to form a complete European Common Market. They are: The European Community (EC), comprising Portugal, Spain, Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Low Countries, Denmark, West Germany, Italy and Greece; the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which includes Austria, Switzerland, and all of Scandanavia; and the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), which includes the USSR and all Eastern European countries under the Soviet Union's wing as well as Cuba, Mongolia and Vietnam (the latter three being non-European).

These changes have not come about without pain and problems, and any further commitments will face objections from several sources. Nations fear losing autonomy and individuality. World War II inflicted partial defeat and suffering on the six original founders. Britain, on the other hand, was not defeated or occupied in that war and felt no need for the cooperative effort, although she did join later on. Still, today, as was pointed out in a Deseret News editorial last July, British Prime Minister Thatcher is still dragging her feet by voicing her objections to the European Common Market's call for uniform taxes and a central bank for the 12-nation Common Market.

The Soviet Union is not unmindful of this effort. Since 1945, Berlin has been a symbol of a divided Europe, when on May 8, 1945, that city was divided into four sections after Hitler's suicide. The squabbling among the allies went on until August 1961, when East Germans, under pressure from the Soviets, built, almost overnight, the Berlin Wall to halt the mass flight of refugees to West Berlin.

General Secretary Michail Gorbachev is an astute observer of this situation. He sees the decline of the United States as both a world economic power and as a leader in the West. He sees the friction over trade developing in the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organizations) countries as well as with Japan. Because the Soviet Union straddles both Europe and Asia, Gorbachev has called for the development of a "Common European Home" and for the need for a "Single Eurasian Process." He is trying to show that Moscow is a respectable, non-threatening neighbor. In December 1987, he invited the arch-conservative German politician Franz Josef Strauss to visit him at the Kremlin.

At the end of his three-day visit Strauss said, "We are in a new game. A new era has begun." In an article in European Affairs (Winter 1987 issue), Strauss wrote, "We want this new border quality for all countries of Europe and also those of the Eastern Bloc. That will be the historic signal for overcoming the division of Germany . . . "

With all this cooperative activity in Europe, Americans might find it an interesting study.

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Further information on The Common Market can be found in THE REFERENCE SHELF VOL. 46 NO. 5. This is a publication of the W.H. Wilson Co. of New York (1975). The title is THE COMMON MARKET, edited by Nancy L. Heopli, senior editor of the Foreign Policy Association.