TODAY the Treaty on European Union created at Maastricht two years ago goes into effect on the continent. At the cold war's end, Maastricht had been a bright dream of Europe as a paradise of consensus. The reunification of Germany and the demise of the former Soviet Union would pave the way for tighter economic integration, liberal social policy, and common defense and security. Brussels would become, in a way, the Washington, D.C., of Europe.
Alas, the European Community is a long way from this dream. European unity is greatly to be desired. Yet Maastricht has proven to be something of a ``fair weather'' treaty.
It was easy to conceive of with NATO and a booming German economy. Since 1990, however, there has been a severe recession in Europe with 20 million now unemployed. Unchecked Serbian aggression in the former Yugoslavia has shown the EC lacking a potent common foreign- and security-policy approach. Moreover, last summer when EC currencies were on the line and the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) was about to collapse, the German banking community decided it was more important to fight Germany's inflation and protect the mark than keep monetary union alive. The Bundesbank failed to cut interest rates, and the ERM broke up. Diverging economies make for diverging politics.
What goes into effect today is a loose agreement to work toward greater unity. The 12 EC members backed off Maastricht's original terms of no change from the treaty's formulas and timetables. The Danes finally signed off on Maastricht, but without provisions on security and citizenship. The British Parliament passed the treaty, but without common currency requirements. Some unity proponents bravely say that European union will continue, that it is already a fact and needs only the proper context and language to be ratified. Yet what one mainly hears out of Europe today is not the great agreement among member states, but the great differences - and the anxiety.
Last Friday's summit in Brussels made this clear. Rather than a smooth set of talks, leaders debated for hours over the siting of agencies and unemployment compensation. A frank statement afterward was promising: ``The debate has been salutory. It has revealed weaknesses. It is now important to bring the union treaty to life.''
We agree. A liberal, civil, stable Europe is a hedge against nationalism. Recognizing honest differences may be a path toward unity.