EVENTS in the Gulf are providing a fresh reminder for the European Community of the limits it faces in responding to such international crises as a world power. The EC is set to begin talks in December on institutional reforms to enhance political integration. Its response to this crisis shows the difficulty it is likely to face in reaching any political union that might infringe on independent foreign policies.
With the British government tethering its action to the United States lead, the French following an active but typically Gaullist independent route, and the West Germans eager to avoid any hint of military adventurism, some European analysts say the EC is responding to the crisis along historical national lines.
``The crisis has shown more on the negative side of things than on the positive as far as a truly European presence is concerned,'' says Dominique Mo"isi, associate director of the Institut Fran,cais des Relations Internationales in Paris. ``The differing responses have been defined more by Western or even Atlantic interests than by European solidarity.''
Others analysts say that, although the EC response shows progress in political cooperation, it also highlights the limits placed on EC action by its present organization. Since 1987, the EC has committed itself to ``seeking to develop a consensus'' on foreign policy, but nothing more binding.
Response to events in the Gulf ``show that the EC as an institution has not yet the capacity to be an effective actor in such a situation,'' says Wolfgang Heisenberg, a senior research fellow with the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels. ``There is a deficiency of the EC in the security field.'' These negative views of EC political weight differ strikingly from the perspective of EC Commission President Jacques Delors, who says the Aug. 10 meeting of EC foreign ministers on the Gulf demonstrated ``the spirit of political union without having political union.'' At that meeting, the EC ministers agreed to encourage close contacts with Arab governments and to support Arab efforts to settle the crisis.
The EC ministers had voted to impose a trade embargo on Iraq and Kuwait a week before the United Nations Security Council took similar action.
The effort thus far contrasts sharply with European responses during the Middle East oil shocks of the 1970s. ``Not only was there no cooperation then,'' says Mr. Heisenberg, ``but the most prominent feature was the competition among Europeans in their relations with Arab countries and their oil.''
Other analysts say EC cooperation is working well - as far as it goes. ``EC political cooperation tends to be a floor and not a ceiling,'' says one US official. ``You do what you can in common, but that doesn't restrict the members from doing more, as long as the `more' doesn't counteract decisions taken in common.''
Thus President Fran,cois Mitterrand can send a dozen emissaries to 24 countries throughout the Gulf and beyond, as he did earlier this week, to explain the French position. Still, the action can't help but overshadow a similar, but smaller, initiative on the part of the EC Council of Ministers, now headed by Italy.
``We are seeing the limits of the current organization and process,'' says Heisenberg.
Numerous analysts remark that EC political action in such crises will remain in the middleweight category as long as the Community has no common defense policy.
A meeting in Paris Aug. 14 of the Western European Union, a defense organization grouping all EC members but Denmark, Greece, and Ireland, could signal whether Community members are warming to suggestions of a more coordinated defense. Already some West German politicians from the Christian Democratic Union of Chancellor Helmut Kohl are promoting use of the long-dormant WEU as an entree for German forces into the Gulf.
Yet as the EC's December meeting nears, the experience of this crisis seems likely to enhance arguments for maintaining independent maneuver in international political affairs.