French Debate Sends Ripples across Europe Uncertainty on Outcome of Vote on EC Unity Shakes Financial Markets, Political Prospects

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ONLY French citizens will vote in the country's Sept. 20 referendum on European union, but the impact the French campaign is having in neighboring countries and the attention it commands show just how intertwined the Europe of the European Community has already become.

Like Denmark's June vote against the EC's Maastricht Treaty for deeper economic and political integration, this month's French vote is already sending waves through an increasingly doubtful Europe.

In Britain, Prime Minister John Major faces sharp criticism from within his own Conservative Party ranks, as some members of Parliament use the surprisingly strong campaign against the Maastricht Treaty in France to demand a referendum in Britain.

Mr. Major, who supports the treaty, rejects a British referendum on the grounds that parliamentary ratification - the method chosen by nine of the EC's 12 members - is sufficient. But critics say that position leaves France looking more democratic than Britain, a situation many Britons find intolerable.

In Germany, furor has quieted over the Germanophobic tone that sprouted in the French referendum campaign early this month. But France's focus on the consequences of the Maastricht Treaty has helped keep alive German fears of lost economic stability under the treaty's proposed monetary union, and of increased "borderless" crime in an integrated Europe.

In Italy, where Prime Minister Giuliano Amato has pegged his program for dealing with the country's economic crisis to the tough fiscal requirements of Maastricht's monetary union, government efforts to force Draconian economic measures through Parliament have been stymied by a wait-and-see attitude toward the French referendum. Interest-rate jumps

Throughout Europe, uncertainty over the outcome of the French vote and concern over the impact a "no" vote would have on monetary union plans have caused turbulence and depression in financial markets, and are partly responsible for a recent spate of interest-rate jumps.

"The French referendum is being watched as a reflection of where Europe as a whole finds itself right now, and where it is headed," says Rudiger Stephan, a specialist in Franco-German affairs in Stuttgart, Germany.

Like Dr. Stephan, supporters of Maastricht's ratification throughout Europe are breathing easier this week with French opinion polls showing a majority once again in favor of the treaty.

Most observers believe President Francois Mitterrand's three-hour appearance on French television last week - discussing the treaty with French citizens and noted journalists, and debating a leader of the anti-Maastricht forces - went a long way toward reassuring French voters about the treaty's consequences. Support for Maastricht jumped more than 5 points in some polls - a return to a "yes" majority in several cases - after the presidential program.

Yet it comes as a surprise to many Europeans that 40 percent or more of the French who have decided still say they will vote no. In addition, more than a quarter remain undecided. France has long been considered among the most pro-Europe of EC countries. …