THE dream of a single Europe - a unitary state with a common defense and economic policy - has been on the rocks since Denmark voted against the Maastricht Treaty last May. In the intervening year a weak French "yes" to Maastricht, monetary chaos, and rifts over the former Yugoslavia further eroded unity. Privately, European officials say Maastricht, as voted on in December of 1991, is nearly dead.
The end of the treaty, however, need not mean the end of the dream. On Tuesday the Danes kept a semblance of formal European union alive by voting "yes" in a second referendum on Maastricht. This was important since it means debate and discussion inside the EC states will continue. A no vote would have permanently killed the treaty.
But Brussels is a long way from declaring victory. For one thing, the Danes voted "yes" mainly because the most controversial aspects of Maastricht had been removed from the referendum. The real sticking points in the treaty - profound points many ordinary Europeans feel they have had no role in deciding - are common security, common currency, and common citizenship. These were the issues that sank Maastricht in Denmark last May. These issues were removed from the version of the treaty Danes voted for on
Tuesday. It was as if the Danes said of European disunion, "Let this not be on our heads."
The Danish vote for a modified version of the treaty may set a useful pattern, however. It allows politicians such as Britain's John Major and Germany's Helmut Kohl - who have staked enormous political capital in Maastricht - to save face. It allows time for tinkering and for a political strategy to emerge on such questions as local control. The British version of the treaty voted on today in the House of Commons will doubtless appear without a commitment to a single currency. The German version will lik ely protect the deutsche mark, and disallow common citizenship.
Such proprietary votes are not quite indications of failure, as many Euro-bashers say. They may signal a starting point from which a new Europe can be negotiated. Issues of security, money, ethnic identity, and self-government cut to the heart of how people live and define themselves. If there was any failure, it was in the arrogant assumption of those negotiating Maastricht in 1991 that these issues could be decided on in a private, week-long meeting - then pushed onto the general populace with no quest ions asked.
A cooperative, democratic Europe is greatly to be desired - particularly since the poisonous fumes of nationalism are sweeping through the region. Liberal ideals, as well as common trade, must progress. The EC must not become an exclusive club; former East-bloc states must be included. The dream of Europe must continue - broader and deeper.