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WESTERN Europe is gripped by a growing, almost obsessive fear that it is falling victim to American economic conquest. And that conquest, so the lament goes, is spearheaded by American technology. Armed with technological prowess that European firms cannot match, giant U.S. corporations are winning control over crucial industries. Many European leaders foresee the gloomy prospect of "an underdeveloped continent," dependent upon the U.S.

The technology gap has become a sensitive issue in world politics, with anti-American overtones. What to do about it was on the agenda of NATO's ministerial meeting last month. The Common Market will devote a special session to it in February. British Prime Minister Harold Wilson and former West German Chancellor Ludwig Erhard took it up in their last talks with Lyndon Johnson. During his recent visit to Paris, Soviet Premier Kosygin fanned the discontent. Warns West German Finance Minister Franz Josef Strauss: "Every year, the gap in the scientific and technological fields widens between the two world powers, the U.S. and U.S.S.R., on the one hand, and the European nations on the other."

The Shape of Tomorrow

What is the technology gap? How real is it? Commerce Secretary John Connor, an adept at soothing utterances, suggests that it could more accurately be called an "industrial disparity." Whatever the name, Europe shows real enough symptoms of the condition. Everywhere about him, the European sees American products and processes. When a Frankfurt businessman rises in the morning, he may well reach for a Gillette razor blade, Colgate toothpaste, and hair lotion that comes in a bottle made by an Owens-Illinois subsidiary. After he downs his Maxwell instant coffee with Libby condensed milk, his wife, trim in her Lycra stretch bra, kisses him goodbye, leaving only a trace of Revlon lipstick. In his Ford Taunus, or G.M. Opel, fueled with Esso gasoline, he drives to an office equipped with Remington typewriters, ITT telex machines and IBM computers. While his wife runs a Hoover vacuum cleaner, a Singer sewing machine and a Sunbeam iron, he confers with his American advertising agency and stops at a branch of First National City Bank of New York. If he sneezes in the wintry damp, he pulls out a Kleenex. If his boss needles him, he calms down with a Miltown. Relaxing in the evening, he puffs an R. J. Reynolds Reyno menthol cigarette, listens to RCA, Columbia or Capitol records. At bedtime, he fastens his door with a lock made by BKS, a Yale & Towne subsidiary that is the continent's largest lock producer.

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