IT has become fashionable to proclaim the death of the European Community. Indeed, the EC's record since the Single European Act of 1986 has been marked by a series of dispiriting anticlimaxes. However, business and government leaders need to understand the subtleties of EC progress. The Community, while not following a direct line toward federalism, is setting in motion events that affect almost every area of global economic and political affairs. True, the past few months have seen a succession of events demonstrating the gap between rhetoric and reality. Most recent was the impotence of the EC in formulating a coordinated response in the Gulf war. Also, four years of negotiations in the Uruguay Round of GATT trade talks were trampled last fall by 30,000 French farmers protesting farm-policy reform.
Also, in the European Parliament party politics is threatening to give an acrid dose of political reality to an otherwise pleasant setting. British Conservatives have recently been embraced by a bloc of the center-right. This new force, composed significantly of Tory, German, and Dutch moderates, will slow the rush toward integration and will likely become the dominant party by 1994.
These and a host of other shocks on the geopolitical Richter scale seem to be conspiring against the vision of Jean Monnet, who four decades ago realized that the key to Europe's salvation was its unity. The skyrocketing cost of German reunification, petitions from the East to enlarge its franchise, and demands from GATT, Japan, and Washington to guard against a ``Fortress Europe'' have slowed its progress. But while the debate rages, the buzz of activity in Brussels continues.
In the days following the Gulf war, the president of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, acknowledged the lack of a unified response. He used this, however, as the basis for a call for new approaches to political and security arrangements. Although still early, recent weeks have seen the most substantive discussions in memory about using the moribund Western European Union to create a link between the EC and NATO, as well as serving as the functional arm of out-of-area security.
The importance of the EC is also revealed by its inaction. Last fall's intransigence on agriculture derailed GATT, making more serious the thinking on regionalism-versus-globalism in international trade. And a democratically elected bloc of footdraggers on federalism in the Strasbourg Parliament is itself a vivid answer to those who complain of a ``democratic deficit.''
WHAT will occur within the Community is a leveling of expectations - a natural result of the EC bureaucracy. Unique among multinational institutions, the EC's decisions are binding on every person, company, and national government. At the same time, decisions are taken only after a lengthy process that insures that everybody agrees.
The result is a compromise that is always more moderate than daring. For example, as London opened itself to integration, Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd suggested two tiers of policy, separating ``security'' from ``defense.'' In this plan he suggests EC cooperation in areas such as arms control, confidence and security building measures, and strategic planning, but excludes the integration of command and control of forces or actual deployment.
In addition to security issues, the Community has already undertaken a wide array of diplomatic efforts, from the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe to renewing economic relations with South Africa. On the economic side, the Bank for European Reconstruction and Development holds promise for Eastern Europe, but Bonn is beginning to pull in the reins on full monetary union. Progress is active but uneven.
The EC bureaucracy, though cumbersome, is functioning and drafting a wide array of legislation. The Community represents over 320 million people, and every day more than 20,000 Eurocrats are busily engaged in making the EC a force in world affairs.