WITH fewer than 1,000 days to the December 1992 date set for an integrated market from Copenhagen to Lisbon, the European Community is threatening to shift to at least a two-speed process for reaching its goal.
Some countries - and issues - are moving more quickly toward integration than others.
Last week, five of the EC's 12 members signed historic accords to lift all internal border controls by the beginning of 1992, a year before the other members are supposed to reach the same goal.
A summit of Community leaders begins in Dublin today to discuss stepped-up economic-policy coordination. Some European monetary officials, including German Bundesbank President Karl Otto Pohl, are suggesting a two-tiered monetary system that would first unite a "core" of the EC's fittest economies.
At the same time, new steps toward Europe's internal market are occurring every week: Recent examples involve abolition of rules that result in tens of millions of costly and time-consuming customs forms annually. In addition, measures taken last week should make Europe's airlines more competitive, with the goal of broadening choices and reducing fares.
Yet just as this market is taking shape, criticism is growing that there is little action on the so-called "social Europe" - legislation on Europe's workers, other "people" issues, and the environment.
An EC with different elements moving at different speeds is to be expected, some analysts say, especially given the economic diversity among 12 members that range from wealthy West Germany to a much poorer Portugal.
"By any definition, the Community at the moment is proceeding at breakneck speed," says Peter Ludlow, director of the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels. "But to a certain extent the Community is going forward through experimentation by smaller subgroups" that are the most prepared, he says.
"That has been true before, and now it seems to be popping up again prominently."
Pointing to the agreement by France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg to end all customs and police checks at their common borders while enhancing law-enforcement coordination, Mr. Ludlow notes that these countries are among the EC's original members. "These countries have a history of this kind of cooperation," he says.
Italy, the last of the Community's six original members, has asked to join the "Shengen group," named after the Luxembourgeois village where the five-nation discussions began. Yet while Spain and Portugal have also expressed an interest, some observers believe it will be more difficult to coax along other members, especially Britain.
Citing its campaigns against terrorism and rabies, Britain says it will not give up border checks of non-EC residents, but that implies continuing the checking of EC residents …