In finally reaching agreement after a divisive five-year budget dispute, the Common Market must now resolve even more fundamental challenges facing Europe's long-range well-being:
The 10-nation European Community needs to fashion the deeper political and economic unity that will enable Europe to develop a high-technology-based economic framework - and thus compete with the United States and Asia in global trading markets.
Europe, as noted in an article by Robert J. Pranger on today's Opinion page, faces the prospect of falling behind the United States in the whole area of technological competition. Such a loss of economic muscle vis-a-vis the United States - and Japan - could lead to deeper unemployment, social frictions, and an increasing loss of diplomatic and political leverage against both the US and the Soviet Union.
Such an unhappy scenario, however, need not develop - provided Europe takes the long-range steps that will ensure the Continent's continuing economic growth. That is why European unity is so essential.
The budget controversy grew out of Britain's insistence that its net share of the European Community's overall budget should be reduced. (Britain and West Germany, alone of Common Market nations, pay in more to the community in taxes than they get back in contributions.) The compromise provides Britain with cash rebates - totaling $800 million for 1984 and another $600 million for 1983. The future import of the agreement remains in doubt.
Now that the agreement has been reached, Europe should move ahead on these essential steps:
* Political unity. Spain and Portugal, which have been seeking membership in the Common Market, must be voted in as quickly as possible. Europe's future is in regionalism, not nationalism. That also means eventually creating a pan-European currency and constructing a joint space station for defense.
* High-tech growth. The European Community must accelerate economic industrial cooperation, while providing tax incentives that further high technology. Britain, for example, is now offering government-provided startup and expansion loans for high-tech firms. And it has reduced taxes on investment capital going into high-tech. Such policies are necessary throughout Europe.
* Farm costs. Earlier this year the community took steps to reduce farm subsidies. They should be cut further. The community must change the current policy of paying farmers to grow commodities. The US approach - encouraging farmers not to grow - is sounder.
The European Community grew out of the vision of its founders back in the post-World War II years to end the deep-seated political and commercial rivalries (particularly between Germany and France) that had engulfed Europe in centuries of conflict. That goal is even more relevant in the current age of superpower rivalry.