Western Europe's long march toward unity is continuing - but just now it looks more like marking time. A summit meeting here of the 10 European Economic Community (EEC) leaders failed to make headway in attempts to work out new arrangements for financing its activities.
The host, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was forced to admit lack of progress and to schedule an urgent attempt by foreign ministers to resolve the difficulties before the end of the year.
The apparently fruitless London summit has prompted fresh attacks on the EEC by its critics. One senior British Labour Party figure declared: ''Once again European unity has proved to be a mirage. We are getting next to nothing out of the community and must begin planning now to leave it.''
But although negative sentiments are common in the ranks of the critics, Mrs. Thatcher spoke for most members of her government when she said that the future of European unity and Britain's part in it could not be judged on the results of a single summit meeting.
Europe's problem is twofold. It is trying to push ahead with a drive to greater unity at a moment when the economic climate is unfriendly and national interests are being asserted above supranational interests.
And the attempt is being made in full public view, at highly publicized political meetings that raise more hopes than can easily be fulfilled.
The problem of the EEC's budget typifies the bind in which the Europeans find themselves. Two members - Britain and West Germany - pay a disproportionately high share of the budget, a large part of which goes to supporting relatively inefficient farmers elsewhere in the community.
Mrs. Thatcher and Chancellor Helmut Schmidt want the system changed but have run up against resistance from countries like France and Ireland, which draw benefits from the existing farm policy.
At the London summit, the problem was considered in fine detail, but there was no consensus for change.
If the Europeans met infrequently in secret huddles such failures might not be apparent. In fact, they are committed to three summit meetings each year.
Before these gatherings expectations of success are inflated; afterwards there is nearly always a sense of letdown.
The London summit suffered from this malaise.
Mrs. Thatcher, who had naturally hoped for a breakthrough on the budget, pointed out that there would be another summit meeting in Brussels in March. A new attempt could be made then, she declared.
Coolheaded observers point out that there is little chance of a breakthrough then either, but this does not leave them disconsolate.
The chief originating impulse of the EEC was an attempt to bind the members together in a political and economic relationship that made them interdependent. The framers of the original treaties wanted to ensure that European countries like West Germany and France in the future would resolve their differences by discussion and negotiation, not by war.