THE EUROPEAN Common Market has sent an emissary here to complain about the management of the American economy. Most Americans will react with a degree of exasperation that, for once, is not entirely misplaced. The emissary, Belgian Prime Minister Wilfried Martens, has been charged by his European colleagues to speak sternly to Washington about its high interest rates and its rising dollar. Some of the officials who receive Mr. Martens here will recall hearing other European complaints not very long ago that the American interest rates were too low and that the sinking dollar was part of a plot to push American exports.
The Europeans say that they want the United States to hold the dollar to more stable exchange rates. True, stability is highly desirable. But the world's departure from fixed rates nearly a decade ago was hardly voluntary. It happened only after a series of dramatic demonstrations of the speed with which a government can lose a great deal of money trying to fight off speculative raids.
It is difficult not to think that some of the European complaints are in fact aimed at European audiences. It is very tempting for governments under pressure to blame unpopular policies--such as, for example, high interest rates to curb inflation--on the reckless and ruinous Americans. But this tactic has an unwholesome effect on European politics, impressing on people there a sense of vulnerability and dependence that the facts of the case do not warrant. The Common Market now has an economy that, by most conventional measures, is the equal of that of the United States. If the current phase of American policy is having a special impact on Western Europe, it is because the Western Europeans are divided among themselves on the same troubling questions of inflation, debt and unemployment.
The Reagan administration will tell Mr. Martens that the best thing it can do for Europe is to get the American economy in order. That's essentially right. The international economic system doesn't run itself, and the Reagan rhetoric often needlessly antagonizes sensible Europeans by suggesting that everything can be left to the uninhibited workings of the world market. It can't, as the Europeans have good reason to know. But they also know that international order does not require governments to follow similar economic policies. Otherwise the European Common Market itself would never have held together, with all its diversity, to become the enormous success that it is.