IN Paris this week, one need look no farther than the corner librairie-papeterie, a combination book and stationery store, to see that the French summer is over and that the rentree - the massive return to serious work, in offices, factories, and schools, after a month of beach and sun - has begun.
This year the seriousness of the rentree is reinforced by the anticipation of Sept. 20, the Sunday barely two weeks away when the French will vote on - and probably decide the fate of - the European Community's Maastricht Treaty for a deeper monetary and political integration of Europe.
At the libairie-papeterie, evidence of the conjunction of summer's end with a fixation on the issues of Maastricht is everywhere.
In the periodicals racks, newspaper headlines blare the newest referendum polls and the week's "hot" Maastricht issue: the effect the vote will have on France's complex and indispensable relationship with Germany. Some pro-Maastricht leaders are quoted arguing reasonably that a French "no" would encourage a more independent Germany less attached to its European neighbors, while others raise the bogeyman of resurgent "demons" in a Germany unloosed from the Community bonds.
Next to the daily publications, newspaper supplements and weekly magazines offer lengthy treaty explications and question-and-answer guides. On the shelves and on counter space reserved for best-sellers, more than a half-dozen thick books, from practical guides to pleadings for or against the treaty, are prominently displayed. Others have simply sold out.
"Until quite recently most people were informing themselves superficially, sticking pretty much to the big print," says one Paris bookstore owner. One problem for Maastricht's protagonists is that most of the summer's "big print" - the war in the former Yugoslavia, revelation of France as Germany's waste dump, and anti-foreigner disturbances in Germany led by neo-Nazis - reinforced August's traditional "stop the world I want to get off" ambience. That worked against a vote for the treaty, leaving polls f or the first time showing a small majority of the French against the treaty.
"But now we're really seeing a change," the shopowner continues. "The books are selling very well, people who usually stick to picture magazines are asking for the best guide for the referendum." Half of the store's allotment of a supplement from the daily Le Monde, sporting a hefty $5 pricetag, sold in two days. "I think the rentree and a return to serious things favors a yes vote," the bookstore owner concludes.
If the French do vote yes, the week's headlines on Germany may hint at the deciding issue. Polls show supporters of Maastricht citing concern for the Franco-German "couple" as a major factor in their position. For them, the Franco-German relationship - carefully built up over the last 40 years after two devastating wars - is too important to the country's peace and prosperity to be hammered with the shock of a French "no" on European integration.
But it is not clear that those leading the pro-Maastricht campaign have understood. Except for a few notable exceptions such as former Prime Minister Raymond Barre, most leaders raising the German issue have, like former Prime Minister Michel Rocard, brandished the specter of Germany's "historic leanings."
The tone is of fear. And the danger of such an argument is as clear as its logical outcome: If the Germans are really so dangerous, why should the French vote to strengthen the monetary and political ties that bind them?