Go, Stop, Go toward United Europe


Ratification of the Treaty of Maastricht by Danish voters on their second attempt insures only that they are not the reason the rest of Europe may fail to attain a single currency by century's end.

Denmark and Britain, where the House of Commons also approved the treaty last week, won the right to opt out of the central feature of the Maastricht pact, monetary union. So the principal issue before them was whether they would be spoilsports in preventing the rest of Europe from going forward, where unanimous ratification was required. What remains is messy completion of ratification in Britain's House of Lords, and a constitutional court challenge in Germany, before Maastricht becomes the law of Europe.

Meanwhile, the high hopes of Eurocrats and statesmen thaproduced the treaty in 1991 have faded. A powerful current of popular opinion across Europe counsels delay and caution. The fact of national difference in economies, exacerbated by German unification and the recession, put impossible strains on the European exchange rate mechanism (ERM), the prelude to monetary union. ERM, which obliges countries to defend their currencies within a narrow range of each other, has all but broken down. Britain and Italy quit the system; Spain, Portugal and Ireland devalued their currencies within it.

Furthermore, the foreign and defense policy union foreseen in the treaty also recedes into the future. EC members could not hTC agree on recognizing Yugoslav dismemberment. Smaller nations resent German hegemony. People in all countries resent the Eurocrats, those international bureaucrats who seem an arrogant law unto themselves, leading to criticism that European institutions require more democratic supervision before taking on more power.

But if the next stage of unification as foreseen in the Treaty of Maastricht has stalled, with implementation doubtful despite ratification, the European movement continues on other fronts. Danish and British approvals open the way for negotiating EC membership for Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Austria, and associate membership -- the preliminary stage -- for Russia. New members have to accept the Treaty of Maastricht without reservations as the price of entry, and their willingness to do so is not assured.

Even more important, the single market of the European Community that was proclaimed for 1993 has actually begun in many respects to take effect. Product standards have become the same in all 12 countries; trucks roll across borders without stopping to show papers; these pressures to implement the Treaty of Maastricht are increasing. Europe will probably get wider (the four next members) before it gets deeper (a single central bank governing a single currency). But the movement toward a more deeply united Europe, now in pause, will probably resume after the advances of recent years have been consolidated.

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