"In Europe, Japan is only enemy No. 2. It's the U.S. that's No. 1," said an international civil servant here. Although Europeans, like others, have been stunned by the Japanese success in export markets, they see a decade of stagnation for Europe unless the United States changes its economic policy so as to bring high interest rates down.
It is one of many signs of real trouble for the economic summit to take place here early next month. Not only is the U.S.-European relationship in disarray, but the Europeans are squabbling bitterly among themselves on Common Market issues--especially over the question of protection of farm lobbies in France, Germany and other continental countries.
And as if that were not enough to shake the Common Market to its very foundations, the Germans are furious over French President Francois Mitterrand's determined effort to cut unemployment in his country, which also has the effect of feeding inflation, and thereby--the Germans feel--threatening the integrity of the European Monetary System.
A collateral and underlying disturbance, of course, is the British-Argentine war over the Falkland Islands, which has carried along further and more dangerously than the continental countries calculated when initially they voted trade sanctions against Argentina. President Mitterrand may assure British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of his support, but it is quite noticeable that the French press refers to the islands as the Malouinas, French for Malvinas.
The United States, for its part, has recently begun to threaten Europe with sanctions against its steel companies, which have--the Americans say--been dumping European steel products--that is, selling below fair prices in the U.S. market. In response, the Europeans, who are suffering high unemployment in steel and other inefficient industries, are searching for ways to retaliate.
But the big issue, above all others, is interest rates. A European central banker told me: "There is a great deal of nervousness and uncertainty, because we never have had interest rates so high. We have no standard against which to measure what may happen.
"In 1978 and 1979, we had an economic recovery from recession that was led by consumers. But no one in Europe believes that consumers can pull us out of this one. You need an investment boom to lead us out of this one--and you just won't get that when real interest rates are running around 10 percent."
What frustrates Europeans are the bland American assurances that since U.S. inflation has come down sharply, interest rates are certain to come down, too--eventually. Government as well as business leaders here expect no relief whatsoever on interest rates, regardless of the inflation trend, until the U.S. budget deficit is sharply reduced.
There are many other contentious issues. Europeans resented being told last week by Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan that they are "short-sighted" to be trading with the Russian bloc. And they are disgusted with what they regard as President Reagan's penny-pinching attitude toward the Third World.
Against that background, West Germany is refusing to be pushed by the bureaucrats at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to play the role of "locomotive," pulling the rest of the world out of recession and stagnation. If they push their economy along while the United States placidly tolerates its recession, the Germans fear they will simply take in more imports without a corresponding rise in exports.
The Germans feel that they were suckered by the Carter administration at the London summit in 1977 into an expansion that later caused undue inflation, and the new German finance minister, Manfried Lahnstein, says bluntly that his government does not intend to be led down that route again.
Japan, meanwhile, is trying to shore up its defenses at what is crudely called "Jap-bashing" around here. The Japanese will come under great pressure to make further "concessions" on trade matters with the goal of reducing their trade surpluses with America and Europe.
So, as the world's leaders prepare for the eighth economic summit, the Europeans are sniping away at each other and unite only in their anger against the policies of Washington and Tokyo. The United States, on the other hand, would desperately like to have a rapprochement with Europe for strategic as well as economic reasons, but not at the expense of Europe's exportation of its unemployment in old-line industries like steel to the United States. Japan, as might be expected, is angry at racial slurs that more and more get mixed in with criticism of its trade practices.
Barring a miracle, then, it looks as if the big powers are too much caught up with their own national problems to focus on the fundamental questions of international economic cooperation. Summitry, at this stage, will do well simply to keep the leaders in personal touch on polite terms.