THE outcome of the French vote on the Maastricht treaty was instructive and probably the best imaginable. The microscopic margin of victory means Europe can move toward greater integration and unity, but that it must do so slowly, giving plenty of attention to the concerns and questions raised by 49 percent of the French voters who voted against it.
A good argument for unity in Europe is to consider the alternative. Without a push toward integration, the tendency, especially during recession and with the ugly example of Yugoslavia nearby, could be a hazy drift toward protectionism and right-wing nativism. Without a common market, doing business would be expensive and chaotic.
But the French vote, "the little yes," gives Europe a chance to move past the shoals of unchecked national self-interest. At the same time, its narrow margin is a signal that if the European Community is to be a federal whole, with a common defense and economic policy, Brussels must change its imperious and often elitist ways.
Maastricht cannot move forward without some major adjustments. Part of the French 49 percent are worried that their national or regional identity will be stripped, that their voices will not be heard, that policies decided far from home will force them out of work. Some of their fears may be well founded. Not only have ordinary Europeans not been brought into the treaty process, but there is not yet a clear mechanism in the pact for more local, democratic power. It is true, as many in Brussels say, that ordinary folk need to be better educated about European unity. At the same time, EC heads of state must agree to ensure more local and national representation in a future unified Europe. The concept is called "subsidiarity" - not allowing Brussels to make decisions that can be made locally and nationally.
Too much political capital has been invested by Europe's leaders to rewrite Maastricht. Rather, the treaty needs to be added to. The structure of the EC may need overhauling. Among other things this may mean giving more power to the European Parliament, in effect creating a modified European House of Representatives.
German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, following the French vote, called an EC summit. This will be useful both as a support of Maastricht and as a way to loudly spell out terms of "subsidiarity." Both the British, who want a looser union, and the Germans, who want their states to retain power, support subsidiarity.
Subsidiarity will also pave the way for the Danes, who said no by the same margin the French said yes, to hold a second referendum.