The question was "Yes ? " or "No ? " but the answer was more like "Maybe" when French voters last week endorsed European unity by a tepid 51%. The results of the Maastricht Treaty referendum left the world's newspapers fretting over the Continent's future. A sampling:
"In France, like any democratic state, a small majority decrees, and there is no doubt that the minority will accept the decision and the unification process will continue. But it is close to certain that it (the vote) will take its toll: The process will be slowed, and the timetable for the stages of the execution will be lengthened.
"In most governments in the European Community, there is the sense that, from a public relations point of view, preparations for unification were a big failure: Neither the governments nor the EC institutions in Brussels succeeded in explaining to the European citizens the benefits that they would derive from unification as it is now and from plans to strengthen it. And this failure is not only a technical problem.
"The (currency) crisis on the eve of the vote directed attention to the basic economic problems from which most European states suffer and to the balance . . . between these nations and Germany. It is now clear that European monetary unification is not a quick fix, but the opposite. Treatment of these problems is essential before completing unification."
--Eliyahu Salfetter, writing in \o7 Haaretz\f7 , Jerusalem
"The little French 'yes' has reassured Europe. It has avoided a shipwreck but has not calmed the waters in which Europe still navigates between political and monetary rocks. The sigh of relief . . . at the first announcement of a favorable result to Maastricht was justified. A second look at the thin majority of the 'yes' votes, however, has turned out to be insufficient. It became immediately clear that it was not sufficient to save the treaty. . . .
"The Paris appointment is also a demonstration of a Europe which runs on two speeds: France and Germany (and countries tied to the mark) and then some way behind the rest."
--\o7 La Repubblica\f7 , Rome
"It was a narrow shave for Maastricht and possibly the worst of all results. In theory, the closeness of (the) French referendum should soon be forgotten. One, after all, \o7 is \f7 enough--and the sanctified Danes didn't manage much more than that. But, though Francois Mitterrand and almost all of the Western world chorus mopped brows and reached for their rhetoric . . . there are few winners from this miscalculated democratic exercise.
"President Mitterrand, perhaps, may hope that the reason for asking the question in the first place--the domestic disruption of his right-wing rivals--will still provide some succor. The Gaullists did, indeed, split most humiliatingly; there is, indeed, a chance that the president may now find European themes which will help him coexist with a suitably pro-Maastricht prime minister from the right when his own, bedraggled Socialists lose power. But these are narrow, self-serving gains compared with the damage that has been done.
"France, remember, likes truly to think of itself as the heart of the Community, the visionary guiding spirit. If France can do no better than this, if its three biggest political leaders can be brought so close to the wire of humiliation by a gaggle of communists, fascists and Gaullist patriots . . . where is the momentum that will see the treaty turned to deed?"
\o7 --Guardian\f7 , London
"The one thing Mr. Major has been determined to avoid since he became prime minister in November, 1990, is the development of a two-tier Europe, with Britain relegated to the fringes. This now seems likely to happen. The French have voted, by however small a margin, to maintain the Franco-German condominium over the European Community, while the tidal wave of market speculation over the past two weeks has washed away the more vulnerable countries, leaving an inner core of states with currencies strong enough to hold their parity against the mighty deutschemark in the Exchange Rate Mechanism.
"Humiliating this may be, but it is also a blessing in disguise. The economic prospects of those countries that remain in the putative inner core are far from enviable. . . . The inner core, therefore, faces the risk of severe and protracted recession.
"Britain is better off outside the deutschemark deflation zone. The task for (Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman) Lamont . . . is to draft a comprehensive economic strategy that allows us to take advantage of our new-found freedom outside the ERM."
--\o7 The Daily Telegraph\f7 , London