THE European Community's march toward a more federal union has been thrown into doubt and confusion in the wake of Danish voters' rejection Tuesday of the Maastricht Treaty on deeper economic and political integration.
The result, largely unanticipated across Europe, opens serious questions about how the Community proceeds now; about a deepening gulf between European leaders and the general population; and even about the interest of other small, wealthy countries in joining the EC.
Responding quickly to Denmark's vote, French President Francois Mitterrand announced yesterday that French voters will be asked in a referendum to approve France's adherence to the Maastricht Treaty.
Apparently meant to circumvent parliamentary opposition to constitutional revisions required for Maastricht's adoption, Mr. Mitterrand's acceptance of a referendum also reflects a desire to head off criticism, common in Denmark, that Maastricht is a bureaucratic creation involving virtually no public consultation.
Partisans of European integration quickly declared yesterday that it would be unthinkable for 46,000 Danish citizens - the slim margin of negative votes in the binding referendum - to upset an integration process affecting 320 million Europeans.
In Germany, where official circles admitted being "surprised" by the Danish vote, Chancellor Helmut Kohl declared his "disappointment" but said the other 11 countries should pursue treaty ratification while leaving the door open to Denmark to reconsider its decision in a year or two.
Still, many EC legal experts maintain that the rejection of the treaty by one member will not be so easily skirted.
Denmark's "no" also is certain to encourage the anti-Maastricht forces in other EC countries.
As the first of only three planned national referendums on Maastricht - the second, in Ireland, is set for June 18 - the Danish results will also embolden those who claim the treaty does not reflect citizens' desires for Europe's future. That argument is strengthened by the fact that a huge majority in the Danish parliament had already voted for treaty ratification.
"We must now ask ourselves why we are so removed from the voters," said Danish Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, an ardent Maastricht supporter, after the vote.
In Germany, no push for a referendum has surfaced. But one German official said the Danish vote pointed out a great need for "at least a thorough explanation and public debate of what adoption of what Maastricht means.
"We can't just dance on the heads of the people and push ahead with our visions," the official said, adding, "If that explanatory process should mean putting off application of the treaty on the specified date of Jan. 1, 1993, then so be it. That's democracy."
There was no quick consensus in European capitals on how the Danish results should be addressed. EC foreign ministers gathered in Oslo for a NATO ministerial meeting are to meet today to discuss possible action, although several officials doubted the agenda would allow a full deliberation on how to proceed.
The Treaty of Rome, the Community's Constitution, calls for unanimity in decision-making, a requirement some experts say could be addressed by a simple amendment to the Maastricht Treaty binding 11 of the 12 EC members.
Others, including EC Commission President Jacques Delors, have said a rejection by one member could open the treaty to renegotiation - a chilling prospect for Europe's pro-integration leaders.
Earlier this year EC leaders refused Ireland's request for a change in the treaty concerning abortion laws for fear of opening a Pandora's box of renegotiation.
The Danish results will only strengthen the perception in many countries, including France, Germany, and Belgium, that public fears about Maastricht's ramifications have grown since treaty negotiations were completed in December.
Adding to the confusion caused by Denmark's vote is the lack of clarity over exactly why 50.7 percent of voters chose to say no to further European political and economic integration.
Denmark 92, the principal organization created to campaign against Maastricht, says it wants a renegotiated treaty with "less union, more democracy in European institutions, less precipitation to develop the foreign and military policy of a superpower." Left-leaning voters said they feared Maastricht's provisions giving the EC greater jurisdiction over environmental and social legislation would mean a weakening of Denmark's progressive laws in those areas, while right-wingers said Maastricht would lead t o "a flood of foreigners."
As some observers had predicted, Denmark's women decided the outcome, voting 56 percent against ratification, while a majority of men voted in favor.
Yet even opponents of Maastricht said they are not opposed to the EC as a common market with increased levels of cooperation in certain areas. Drude Dahlerup, one of the founders of Denmark 92, says she envisions a Community of "several circles" of decision-making which would allow countries to choose different levels of political integration.
With Austria, Sweden, and Finland having already applied for EC membership, and Norway and Switzerland expected to do so soon, observers will be gauging if the Denmark vote has any affect on their intentions.
Even before Denmark's vote, EC officials said signs of growing public unease over Maastricht suggested that the Community was bumping up against the limits of public tolerance for integration, at least for now.
And with two advocates of a go-slow policy on European integration about to assume the next two six-month presidencies of the EC - Britain in July, and, ironically, Denmark in January 1993 - a slowdown in Europe's unity drive appears in order.