THE European Parliament's recent vote to include Austria, Norway, Finland, and Sweden in the European Union may help forward the troubled crusade for a more unified Europe.
The integration of Europe has been the dream of statesmen since Jean Monnet proposed a common coal and steel market in 1950. The original six- member Common Market in 1957 has expanded to 12, and the May 5 vote in Strasbourg would enlarge it to 16 - creating a more formidable trading union, and possibly adding momentum to the moribund Maastricht Treaty of 1992 that attempted to bring EU member states into a deeper political and economic union.
The vote bodes well for the eventual admittance to the EU of such suitors as the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia. Bringing these post-Soviet states into Europe is extremely important. Already there is too much anxiety in East Europe about an economic and security vacuum that allows for stronger nationalist forces and organized crime.
We support European integration tied to the shared ideals of a liberal political community. Economic cooperation tied to national interests is crucial. But in recent years, the unity ideal has fallen on hard times. The ``deepening'' of Europe that statesmen such as former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher hoped for in Maastricht foundered on the problems of anti-Brussels localism, Germany's concern about its currency, and failure to end the Yugoslav crisis.
It remains an open question whether Austria, Sweden, Norway, and Finland will even join the EU, and if so, under what terms. Each of the states must hold a referendum, and the climate in Europe is not as optimistic as four years ago. The Swiss, for example, recently decided not to join. Current uncertainty in Brussels about the future shape of the union, the status of the Maastricht Treaty, and the form of state representation in the key European Council in an enlarged EU may be used by EU opponents in state referendums. The new states would be joining an economically depressed EU, where the leading country, Germany, is experiencing significant unemployment. The end of EU president Jacques Delors's 10-year reign in January adds a further question mark.
Some questions will be answered June 9 when a new European parliament is elected by member states.