WHEN the lunchtime conversation among four computer technicians who work in the city center here turns to the referendum on European union Sept. 20, Gerard David takes his friends by surprise with his announcement that he will vote no.
"I am not against Europe, in fact I want a stronger Europe, but I want to be more sure than I am with this treaty that we are building the right one," says the young employee of an insurance company. "Too much in this treaty, like a single money for all 12 [European Community] countries, is fuzzy and the effects are undefined. Wishful thinking is not enough."
Fifteen weeks have passed since French President Francois Mitterrand announced that his country would vote in a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty, whose year-long negotiation was completed last December by EC leaders in the Dutch city that gives the treaty its name. In that time it is the Mr. Davids of France who have astonished Europe and much of the world by revealing a France that is less willing to embrace this particular blueprint for a more-integrated Europe than most people, including Mr. Mitter rand, had assumed.
Final polls released last weekend showed either an even split on Maastricht or numbers slightly in favor, with "undecided" a major category. Most analysts are guessing the French will approve the treaty, but with a much smaller majority than once assumed.
Interviews in Le Mans, a city of 150,000 best known for its famous auto race, insurance, and a minced pork spread called rillettes, reveal an electorate as divided as national polls suggest.
Treaty supporters announce without hesitation their support for "Europe" as the reason for voting yes. "I feel European, I'll vote for Maastricht so the Europe of free travel and commerce and closer cooperation can progress," says Sylvie Campenon, an office worker.
"I might have some concerns, but they are outweighed by hope," says Michele Bourgouin, who owns a specialty foods shop.
Yet supporters of a "no" vote are almost unanimous in insisting, like Mr. David, that they, too, want a stronger Europe. The difference is that their "hopes" for Europe are outweighed by fears that Maastricht would take France and the rest of the EC down the wrong path.
Surprisingly absent from "no" supporters' comments are references to domestic politics - the temptation to use the referendum to "send a message" to the unpopular Mitterrand - that many analysts assumed would fuel the anti-Maastricht vote. Instead, most "no" supporters have reasoned arguments indicating the referendum has led the French to undertake the deeper education on Europe that Mitterrand sought. Gripes with Maastricht
High on opponents' list are worries over a centralized, bureaucratic, and increasingly apolitical Europe that will be run by faceless technocrats in Brussels, the center of EC government. They postulate that instead of uniting Europe, a single EC money will cause friction: It will remove a participating country's ability to manage its own economic needs with monetary adjustments; and it will lead to a two-tier Europe separating the economically strong from the weak.
Finally, they argue that the EC's record in Yugoslavia is proof that a closer Europe will only be more paralyzed in international affairs, and less capable of taking effective initiative.
"In reality this treaty concerns only the four or five strongest and largest [EC] members, and will end up leaving out the rest," says Alexis Renault, a pharmacist in a village outside Le Mans. Just as EC agriculture policies have supported only the Community's strongest farmers and "done in" the others, he says, the same will happen to the EC's weaker regions and struggling companies.
All of these points reflect the arguments of Philippe Seguin, a French Parliament deputy, mayor of the Eastern French city of Epinal, and Gaullist from the Rally for the Republic party who has bucked his party's central leadership to carry the campaign's anti-Maastricht banner.
When Mr. Seguin came to Le Mans Sept. 10 for his 33rd "No to Maastricht" rally of the summer, he found the city's convention center bursting with a standing-room-only crowd of 1,500. Over 90 minutes, he told his audience to "reject as bad reasoning" the call to vote yes just to give Europe a symbolic push forward. "You are voting on a treaty with specific obligations and renunciations" of national powers, he said. Unresponsive technocrats
Maastricht would lead to a Europe where only 20 percent of laws would be voted in national parliaments, he claimed, the rest being decided in Brussels, where appointed "experts" unresponsive to national governments would manage a single money that would remove a government's ability to answer domestic growth and employment needs with monetary adjustments.
"What the choice comes down to," he said, "is a yes or no to France," and to a Europe of cooperating by independent nations.
Ghislaine Wettstein-Badour, an elected regional councillor, resigned as regional president of the center-right Republican Party to publicly oppose its her party's pro-Maastricht stance. "My central argument is that Maastricht would be a defeat for democracy," says the specialist in children's learning disabilities. "Maastricht lifts from national governments some of the very powers that most concern the people."
Philippe Goude, another regional councillor from the Progressive Left coalition also opposed Maastricht. "I'm for a `constructive no' that says we want a united Europe, but one that is more democratic and is not primarily an institutionalization of an economic system that sacrifices growth and employment for monetary stability."
"What I believe must be like 85 percent of the French," adds the junior high school math teacher, "I want a treaty for European union, but I think we can do better than this one."