EC Officials Shift Course to Reshape Integration

Article excerpt

WITH the four-decade-long venture in forging a unified Europe confronting one of its most difficult periods, Sunday's narrow French vote to support union has not set the capital of the European Community shouting for joy.

Yet EC officials and observers here insist that France's ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, especially coming after a long campaign amid difficult economic and social conditions, is a stronger impetus to Europe's push for economic and political integration than a "snap analysis" seems to yield.

Moreover, a deep monetary crisis and questions about democratic legitimacy - widely seen as the EC's two most pressing problems - are trials that will make the EC stronger, these officials and observers say.

"This is one of the most complicated times we've had in the Community," says Stanley Crossick, director of the Belmont Center for European Studies here. "But the underlying forces for union, economic and political, are still there, and that is what will keep things moving forward."

In the weeks ahead, response to the EC's problems will be framed by a number of central factors, observers say:

* The French vote and the European Monetary System (EMS) crisis put the Franco-German alliance firmly back in the driver's seat. Withdrawal of the British pound from the EMS and loud advocacy of a nationalist economic program have hurt Britain's progress even as Prime Minister John Major holds the rotating presidency of the European Council.

Although nothing substantive filtered out of this week's emergency summit between French President Francois Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, many observers expect a classic "Franco-German initiative" on making EC's institutions more democratic before the emergency EC summit set for Oct. 16 in London.

* France and Germany may propose an accelerated monetary union for an inner core of strong EC countries, initially Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Some say that option is the only way to reassure financial markets on monetary union's future.

* Britain, long viewed as the EC's foot-dragger, faces difficult economic and political conditions at home. Yet while EC partners need Mr. Major if the Maastricht Treaty is to take effect, they also won't let Britain stand in the way of the EC's progress. If Britain keeps the pound out of the EMS for a long period or argues for slowing the EC's integration process, Germany and France might be forced to accelerate monetary union.

* The public's widespread uneasiness with the Community may be less urgent than the monetary crisis, but officials and observers alike say it demands no less attention. …