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FRENCH VOTE STILL LEAVES EUROPEAN UNITY IN DOUBT

The razor thin margin of the French vote this week in favor of the Maastricht Treaty for closer Europen unity has created as many problems as it solved.

The final results, 51 percent yes to 49 percent no, is far short of the mandate French President Francois Mitterrand desperately wanted.France, after all, has acted as the key architect of European unity for 30 years, so it seemed especially important that France give its approval in a convincing way.

It did not. The accord, which establishes a framework for unified European economic, political and defense policies and a common bank and currency by 1999, may be still on track but is running out of steam.

Analysts are fearful that the close vote will make it more difficult to ratify the pact in Germany and Britain and raises serious doubts that the document can be implemented in its current form.

While French approval definitely kept Maastricht alive and prevented an immediate financial and political crisis within the 12-member European Community, the close vote was a sharp reminder that millions of Europeans across the continent do not agree with the Europe envisioned by their leaders.

Many are apparently not sure Western Europe should be turned into a 338 million-strong economic superpower that would rival the United States and Japan.

A newspaper poll in London reported 47 percent of the British people are opposed to the treaty while only 24 percent support it.

In Germany, Helmut Kohl strongly favors the treaty and is assured of ratification by the German Parliament but is afraid the French decision to put it to a vote will force the same decision in his country.

He is worried a referendum would turn on only one issue - whether or not Germany should agree to give up the Deutschemark in favor of the single currency known as the Ecu. Germans might very well reject the treaty because they don't want to give up the symbol of German prosperity for an unknown currency.

Actually, the key to the French results is a prominent French fear that a powerful united Germany might dominate Europe. Another problem that will not go away easily is Denmark's June rejection of the treaty. Even though Denmark is a smaller nation than some, the treaty has a provision that will stop it from going into effect unless it is unanimously approved by all 12 members.

Mitterrand and Britain's John Major hope that if the other countries vote for approval that Denmark can be persuaded to change its mind.

There are other analysts who flatly predict that the treaty has been overtaken by events, notably last week's currency crisis that resulted in the withdrawal of the British pound and Italian lira from the European exchange rate mechanism.

These analysts say that the single currency envisioned by Maastricht and which was to go into effect by Jan. 1, 1999, is now likely to be replaced by a single currency in which only four or five countries will take part.

It all looks murky. Yet considering the economic malaise currently afflicting Europe, the Maastricht Treaty is still the best hope to restore economic faith on a large scale. Unfortunately, a positive decision in the other EC countries in the near future, including Britain and Germany, will by no means guarantee its success.