ASK an American what he thinks of when asked to identify ``the Union,'' and he might cite his labor organization, or the victor in the Civil War.
Ask a Frenchman, and he will probably say his insurance company - they all seem to be called ``unions'' in France - while an Englishman might think of his flag, the Union Jack.
But now there is a new Union of note, and it is nothing less than a world economic power: The 12 European nations that the world, and Europeans themselves, finally became accustomed to calling the European Community, is now called the European Union. So note the change - it is one The Monitor officially recognizes as of today.
Officially the change came Oct. 29, when ``the 12'' formally ratified the Maastricht Treaty, which transformed the Community (or most of it, anyway) into the European Union.
Newspapers in such traditionally pro-integration countries as France and Belgium immediately made the switch. The publications in more independent-minded Britain held to Community at first. But now even British papers have widely adopted European Union - and its decidedly unmelodious abbreviation, EU. As one British journalist said, ``Sticking with `Community' quickly began looking like a political statement, as though we sided with the Euro-skeptics, so we made the switch.''
Part of the hesitation stemmed from the fact that neither name is always technically correct. The ``Union'' is not a legal entity, so it is still the ``European Community'' that signs international treaties in the name of the 12, for example.
That confusion won't be eliminated until at least 1996, when the EU is scheduled for another treaty revision. In the meantime, we will call it the European Union. As one EC - sorry, EU - official says, ``Within a year no one will speak about the Community anymore.''