GREECE IS a lot more, alas, than its ancient glories and its island jewels. It's chronically weak and insecure country with imperfect connections to the West. Its semi-isolation has rendered it susceptible to extremism of the left and right. In turn this has inclined Europeans, including, since World War II, the United States, to make a protracted and not always light-handed effort to tie Athens irreversibly to Europe. This policy is now producing a quiet but brilliant success. Greece is joining the European Economic Community, or Common Market. The formal agreement was signed a month ago and yesterday the Greek parliament started debating ratification. A positive outcome is assured.
On the surface it is an economic deal, and Greeks, though expecting their agriculture to benefit, worry how their industry will fare under stiff European competition. But everyone realizes the issue is primarily political: whether to tie Greece psychologically and institutionally to Europe, as the government of the farseeing prime minister, Mr. Karamanlis, urges, or to seek out some ostensibly more independent and neutral stance, as favored by the opposition. The pro-EEC forces do not really deny that Greece's historical individuality is under pressure. They understand that Greece's special culture includes precisely the vulnerability to extremism that Athens is "joining Europe" to subdue. It was only five years ago, after all, that a junta ruled Greece.
The EEC nine understand this perfectly. Their welcome to Greece is no less political. They are betting this is the best way to keep their poor Greek cousin safe for democracy, and thereby to keep their own democracies safe from Greek infection. The same enlightened logic underlies the EEC's approaches to the two other recent dictatorships of southern Europe, Spain and Portugal. With some cooperation in Ankara, this logic could underlie an EEC approach to Turkey, too.
Europe these days is a slightly fantastic place. By expansion and because of its new elected parliament, it is undergoing structural changes beyond any being tried elsewhere. The purposes are two: to fulfill a generous and profound idea of Europe, and to prepare for severe storms. The United States helped rescue Europe in two wars and helped create the foundation on which the Europeans themselves are now building this impressive structure.