THE European Community agreed over the weekend to postpone diplomatic recognition of the recently proclaimed republic of Yugoslavia in an effort to pressure the Serb-led federal Army to withdraw from the breakaway republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The debate underlined the stumbling blocks the EC is facing in creating a common foreign and defense policy.
The Community's foreign ministers, meeting in the northern Portuguese town of Guimaraes just four months after negotiating the Maastricht Treaty on European integration, in effect decided to postpone any decision until the Yugoslav Army withdraws from Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was recognized as an independent state last month by both the United States and the EC.
"It is unthinkable for a country to keep troops beyond the very borders it is asking us to recognize," Italian Foreign Minister Gianni De Michelis told reporters.
The foreign ministers acted after the breakdown of EC-sponsored talks in Lisbon between the leaders of Bosnia's Serbian, Croatian, and Muslim ethnic groups.
A spokesman for Portugal, which currently holds the rotating EC presidency, said the negotiations had failed because of continuing cease-fire violations.
Heavy fighting was reported in the breakaway republic over the weekend, with battles between the Yugoslav Army and Muslim guerrillas reported on the streets of the capital, Sarajevo.
The decision to withhold diplomatic recognition from the new state of Yugoslavia was not without difficulty.
The new Yugoslavia was born last week from the ashes of the former Yugoslav federation and is composed only of Serbia and tiny Montenegro.
While Britain, the Netherlands, and Italy insisted on withholding recognition, Greece actively campaigned for granting Yugoslavia diplomatic status immediately. France, however, took a more subtle approach to the problem.
The French view, expressed by Foreign Minister Roland Dumas is that the EC should recognize Yugoslavia if it in turn accepts the four breakaway republics that once were part of the Yugoslav Federation.
"Such an initiative," Mr. Dumas told the French newspaper Le Monde, "could open the debate over the future of the federal Army."
The EC and the US have already accepted Slovenia and Croatia as well as Bosnia-Herzegovina as independent republics, with only Macedonia still waiting for recognition, because of stiff opposition from its neighbor, Greece.
Perhaps more than the recognition of Yugoslavia itself, the controversy over Macedonia is illustrative of the enormous difficulties the 12-member EC is facing even as it moves toward ratification of the Maastricht treaty on political and economic unity adopted by EC leaders last December.
The treaty calls for the creation of a common currency among the 12 by the end of the decade as well as the establishment of a common foreign and eventually defense policy.
But the continuing Yugoslav crisis has been a thorn in the Community's side, a painful reminder that, despite advances toward creation of a single economic market and the end of the communist threat, EC countries are frequently unable to reconcile their collective interests with what they perceive as their individual needs.
Just a few days after the Maastricht summit, for example, the fragility of the ambitious treaty was exposed when Germany threatened to recognize the breakaway republics of Croatia and Slovenia without the approval of the other EC countries. It was only after Bonn set a Jan. 15 deadline for recognition that the other Community members agreed to follow the German lead.
The Macedonian issue is the latest obstacle in the effort to make joint decisions on foreign policy. Although recognition of the republic is favored by all EC members, action has been delayed by Greece's adamant refusal to accept an independent state bearing the name of its northern-most province.
Athens argues that accepting such a state implies territorial ambitions on its province. Vows by Macedonia to respect existing borders have done little to allay the Greek concern.
On Saturday the EC foreign ministers agreed to recognize the republic if it changes its name, but the ministers are clearly losing patience with what they see as Greek intransigence on the issue.
"It is not a step forward," British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd said Saturday in Portugal.
The Macedonian issue has demonstrated how even a small and relatively weak EC member can block the Community from taking action on important issues even when the other members are in full agreement.
Diplomats from other EC countries have tried to persuade Greece that it has nothing to fear from an independent Macedonia because, if attacked, Athens would be automatically protected as a member, not of the European Community, but of NATO.