Twenty-five years after its founding the European Community invites ambivalent feelings. To many, it is bogged down and often ineffective because of its chronic, internal, esoteric wrangles over such issues as budget contributions and a common agricultural policy (CAP). In other words that it is a big bore. Indeed, US news media largely ignored the Brussels summit meeting held to celebrate the anniversary.
The other side of the coin is that the EC is still there after 25 years. Not only is it still there: the original six members (France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) became nine in 1974 when Britain, Denmark, and the Republic of Ireland joined. The nine became 10 last year, with the addition of Greece. And Spain and Portugal are now knocking at the door for admission.
It might be said that by surviving and growing - at least in numbers - the EC has confounded the cynics. But at the same time, it has disappointed the idealists who attended its conception and birth - from the late Jean Monnet (the remarkable Frenchman who is generally recognized as its godfather) downwards.
If the EC has fallen short of the dreams of its original architects, it is due in part to:
* An inability to define clearly its relationship with the United States, on whom (like the nearly parallel NATO) it ultimately depends for its security.
* The correlative tendency from within the EC to equate the US and the USSR as superpowers against whose weight Europe needs to assert its identity.
* A residue of old nationalisms reasserting themselves within the EC as the immediate Soviet threat to Western Europe (in many European eyes) has lessened.
* A parallel tendency at the level of public opinion - particularly in Britain and Denmark - to blame the unseen gargantuan monster of EC bureaucracy in Brussels for everything that seems to have made people worse off since their governments joined the community.
As for this grumbling about the EC from within, it can in fact be countered that the ''common market'' concept with which it began - the removal of tariff barriers among its members - has by and large helped maintain living standards at a time of world recession.
But for the past ten years, no progress has been made in the direction of European political union or of giving EC's institutions greater overall authority. Indeed, as already indicated, the tendency is in the opposite direction.
Greenlanders have voted in a recent referendum for withdrawal from the EC, into which they were brought when Denmark entered it. The Labour opposition in Britain says that if returned to power it will take Britain out - without any referendum to test public opinion. And even the West Germans, founder members of the EC, show some disillusionment with it - not least because they are getting tired of being expected to bail the EC out of its economic difficulties.
All this tends to narrow the area where the EC leaders can prove their common Europeanness to the field of foreign policy. Nothing can so easily give the impression of unity or contribute to it as the declared need to stand up to a common threat from outside.
The irony is that for the EC leaders it is much easier - and much less risky - to represent that threat as coming from, not the Soviet Union, but the US. Not that the Europeans expect the US to invade Europe. (They would almost certainly panic if the US threatened to withdraw from Europe the troops it has stationed there.) But they are inclined to perceive of the US - particularly when its President is a former movie actor from California - not simply as ''trigger happy.'' A growing number of them are persuaded the US is trying to keep nuclear war from US territory by turning Europe into the main battleground where any eventual superpower war with the Russians would be fought. The result: the US becomes a whipping boy for the EC as well as for NATO.