THE DEMAND in Eastern Europe to scrap the failed socialist economies and construct market-oriented economic systems will not produce quick results or provide drama comparable to that of the region's political renaissance. But progress is being made, and good evidence of it lies in the establishment of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development -- EBRD.
It was only last October that President Francois Mitterrand of France proposed creation of an investment bank to assist in the financing of structural reforms in East Europe. Eight months later more than 40 nations, including the United States, Japan and the Soviet Union, initialed the articles of agreement setting up the EBRD, capitalized at $12 billion. The speed is unprecedented in the establishment of such institutions. Two features set this one apart: the characteristics of its membership, and the political quality of its investment and lending policies.
First, the bank is the only institution of its kind in which shareholders include governments of both East and West. It is the first international organization, outside of the United Nations group, to welcome the Soviet Union as a member. This is an important step toward integrating reform-minded Eastern countries into the world economy. Western and Eastern leaders soon will be able to sit down together and tackle, in the context of actual lending and investment proposals, fundamental issues of trade liberalization, comprehensive price reforms, development of financial markets and competition in the private sector.
Then, shareholders of the EBRD, unlike their counterparts at the World Bank and the regional development banks, have explicitly agreed to support loans and investments to East European countries committed to the rule of law, respect for human rights and the pursuit of multiparty democracy and pluralism. Exactly how these political standards will be applied to, for example, the Soviet Union as a borrower isn't yet clear. At the current pace, the articles of agreement are not expected to be ratified before next March. That allows time to work through some of the thorny policy questions.
One aspect of the EBRD, however, should raise the eyebrows of economy-minded governments. It seems to have been tentatively decided to create a full-time 23-member board of directors to represent the 43 shareholders. As now planned, salaries paid to the directors and their staff will represent fully 25 percent of the bank's salaries. In the bank's early years, when project development is likely to be slow, a full-time board of directors housed in London looks like a waste of time and money, and it should be reconsidered.