WITH public opinion soured on the merits of European unity, European Community leaders hope to ``relaunch Europe'' with a special summit tomorrow celebrating ratification of the long-awaited Maastricht Treaty.
``It's important to get the public thinking in terms of Europe again,'' says one Belgian Foreign Ministry official.
But the celebration risks being seen as irrelevant by much of the public it targets, as Europeans worry about record-high unemployment, challenges to their infant-to-elder social-welfare system, and instability on the continent's eastern borders.
``In Germany, at least, people are thinking about their job security, while published opinion is wondering about the future course of Russia, and neither one sees how the EC can have a major impact on those concerns,'' says Josef Janning, deputy director of the research group on Europe at the University of Mainz in Germany. ``People are seeing such issues less in European and more in national terms.''
The Maastricht Treaty, an ambitious blueprint for providing the EC with a monetary union and a common foreign and security policy by the latter part of the decade, was supposed to have been ratified and the process of its implementation begun in January 1992. That the treaty was not fully ratified until this month, when the German constitutional court finally approved it, provides a measure of the public doubt about Maastricht's goals.
In the two-year delay, Maastricht was battered by an initial outright rejection by Danish voters in a referendum, plus rough ratification battles in Britain and France. The European currency crises of October 1992 and this past summer mocked the monetary union goal, while the EC's weak and disjointed response to the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina posed deep questions about the feasibility of a common foreign policy. Operation `restore stature'
Tomorrow's summit, held in Brussels, is a German-French initiative to try to restore both Maastricht's and Europe's public stature. But even in France, where regard for the Community runs high, doubts are strong about what this summit can accomplish.
``No one should expect much of anything concrete out of this summit,'' says Phillipe Moreau-Defarges, an EC specialist at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris. ``There's too much division among the EC countries for decisions to be made.''
One possible area of action that Mr. Moreau-Defarges cites provides a good example of the Community's current lack of a common vision. The summit could give a new boost to earlier economic ``growth initiatives'' that have had trouble getting off the ground, he says.
Elsewhere in Europe, where public spending is already causing record debts, and where skepticism is strong over the actual impact of large public-works programs, enthusiasm for such proposals is slight.
``The German public is definitely not in favor of this kind of centralized program to rebuild Europe's economic strength,'' Dr. Janning says. ``People in Ireland or Portugal may see Brussels [EC headquarters] as a guarantor or creator of jobs,'' he adds, since those countries receive substantial EC development funds, ``but they certainly don't in Germany.''
Germany and France also had wanted to take up another issue at the summit: Community institutional reforms. The larger countries feel their power is too limited by the generally equal rights of smaller members, and concern is growing that the Community's enlargement to include three or four new small members by 1995 will further tilt the balance and generally render the Community more bureaucratic and plodding. Putting off reform
German proposals for streamlining the EC administration met with staunch resistance from small members, and reform will likely be put on hold until the next EC treaty review in 1996.
To demonstrate that Maastricht is now in force, EC leaders are expected to prepare the next stage of economic and monetary union by launching the European Monetary Institute, ``embryo'' of a future European central bank. The institute's location in Germany is likely to be approved, a move that could open the way for decisions on the placement of several other new EC institutions, including a patent office and environmental agency.
Still, there is a lingering feeling that Maastricht, negotiated in 1990, is a treaty already left behind by European events. ``By spring of next year we may very well have a new imperial Russia to contend with, something never imagined when Maastricht was written,'' Janning says. ``Economies are seen more in national terms. [Community] leaders will have to work hard,'' he adds, ``to demonstrate that Maastricht is relevant in these conditions.''