If ever there were to be a summit of European Community (EC) leaders that would make the Common Market nations turn their backs on nationalism and forge a new and more dynamic Europe, the just-concluded Milan summit was going to do it. That was the buildup to the June 28-29 summit held in the medieval splendor of a 15th-century castle that was once the domain of the Visconti family.
But the expectation that Europe would finally show it had the political will to speed economic progress, hasten political unity, and close the ever-widening technological gap between Europe on the one hand and Japan and the United States on the other didn't materialize.
In the end, instead of acting in concert, the Common Market countries split along roughly traditional lines with the original members (France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg) plus Ireland voting in one camp, and the newer members to the club (Britain, Denmark, and Greece) remaining resolutely in the other camp.
What the original six, plus Ireland, decided on was a special intergovermmental conference that would amend the founding treaty of the European Community -- the Treaty of Rome. The conference is intended to pave the way for a new Treaty of European Unity that would address itself to issues that are slowing down the business of the Common Market.
Britain, Denmark, and Greece are vociferously opposed to such a conference. Denmark and Greece see no need to change the Treaty of Rome. Nor does Britain, which feels the European Council meeting in Milan had the powers to make the changes and therefore the EC was again putting off until later what could and should have been settled at Milan.
The special intergovernmental conference could prove an exercise in futility as a result.
As a British representative put it succinctly: ``You've got to have unanimity before you can amend the [Rome] Treaty.'' Since Britain, Denmark, and Greece don't show any signs of yielding, the special intergovernmental conference, to be held no later than the end of October, appears to be a non-starter.
The failure of all the participants to act in concert came as a disappointment to many observers here who arrived with high hopes that a much greater measure of unity was possible. Seldom had the circumstances for a European summit been so propitious.
No major problem, like the long-standing, and, to many Europeans, tiresome British budget complaint, hung over the Community. That was resolved at the Fontainebleau summit.
An additional stimulus to action was the recognition that if the Community was to make economic progress, it should get its house in order before the arrival of two new members, one poor, the other very poor, in the new year. These are Spain and Portugal which attended the Milan summit as observers.
That the Milan summit fell short of its expectations was attributed, once more, to the pursuit of national, rather than Community objectives, and the revival of traditional alliances.
In recent weeks Britian appeared to be making most headway in offering the kind of pragmatic reforms that seemed to many observers before the conference to have the most realistic prospects of going through. These included more majority voting, less use of veto, and resorting to abstentions as a way of getting around the veto.
But the prospect of Britain, which until recently has been seen as a ``bad European'' taking the lead in the ECappeared to rankle with France and West Germany.
This was one interpretation given by some analysts for the surprise move by Bonn and Paris in calling for a new treaty. Britain, however, feels that most objectives can be realized within the existing Treaty of Rome.