The 1955 treaty establishing the European Community also cemented Franco-German reconciliation, a relationship that remains the pivotal link in the present drive toward European unity.

The original community of six countries now has 12 member states, and the list of those interested grows.

Turkey has formally applied to join; Austria, Sweden and Switzerland, which once rejected membership as compromising their political neutrality, are reviewing their position, while Cyprus, Malta and Morocco have contemplated membership.

Norway Expected to Join

Even Norway, the only country to reject membership (in 1973), is eventually expected to reverse itself and join.

Buoyed by a new international spirit of detente, leaders of community countries have responded to the exhortations of EC Commission President Jacques Delors that achieving the single market by 1992 is "a race . . . which the countries of Europe have to win to survive."

Last year, the commission even calculated the cost of failure: $200 billion per year, up to 7% lost economic growth, 5 million jobs and continued fragmentation.

As economic interests of European Community member states converge, so too does cooperation in other fields.

A structure for political cooperation is already in place and joint stands, most recently in withdrawing all 12 ambassadors from Tehran in response to the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's death threat against British author Salman Rushdie, make its voice count.

The European Community has invoked limited punitive measures against Libya, Syria and Argentina; it has its own policies on the Middle East and South Africa, and conducts its own dialogue with Moscow.

An emerging concept of European political identity is even visible in news headlines: "Europe pushes U.S. on Arafat"; "Khomeini gets Euro-snub."

More Military Cooperation

Member nations have increased defense cooperation, and those involved in the march toward a more unified Europe believe a greater degree of mutual security interests is also bound to emerge, either within the community framework or in some parallel organization.

"I think it is unavoidable," said Frans Andriessen, EC Commissioner for External Relations, in an interview. "We can't escape a security dimension linked to this integration process."

A stronger, more unified European voice within the Atlantic Alliance at a time when Americans and Europeans appear to be diverging on the ways to meet a changing Soviet threat carries its own implications: roughly half the $300-billion U.S. defense budget is committed to the defense of Western Europe.

Viewed from a distance, the compelling logic of a truly unified European Community would seem to make the 1992 goals a foregone conclusion.

But however strong the commitment to the ideal, the prospect of it becoming one more broken dream, crushed by powerful, divisive national interests remains real.

How, for example, can border controls be eliminated in countries like Britain, an island nation which has traditionally relied on them as a key law enforcement tool? Where is the common ground for an automobile sales tax that currently ranges from 12% in Luxembourg to 200% in Denmark?

How is it possible, skeptics ask, to take a European unity movement seriously when tiny Belgium, a country whose population is smaller than that of New York City, remains hopelessly divided by a chronic Flemish-Walloon rivalry?

Even the shape and depth of European unity is disputed.