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European unity proves to be a Cannes of worms

French President Jacques Chirac had hoped to make the two-day summit meeting of the European Union in this Riviera resort a "new start" toward continental unity that would add luster to both him and France.

It fell far short, and only partly because British Prime Minister John Major could agree to hardly anything at all while under attack from anti-Europeans in his own Conservative Party and may be on the way out in the coming week.

While Chirac saw the results as a glass half full rather than half empty, there were little more here than promises and good intentions on such major issues as the 11 percent unemployment that has idled 18-million workers in the EU's 15 countries, or the three-year-old war in Bosnia.

Decisions came on lesser issues, but in many cases the leaders simply marked time until major meetings scheduled for next year.

Chirac tried. After a marathon meeting over dinner Monday night, he appeared before the waiting press to announce what he hailed as a major new initiative to bring peace to Bosnia.

It was to be marked by a new firmness toward the Bosnian Serbs who have conquered 70 percent of the country, a firmness backed by a new rapid-reaction force that would shoot back when U.N. peacekeepers were attacked, as U.N. forces did this week.

The first aim, Chirac announced, was to open a corridor to break the 38-month siege of the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, where Serb shells are killing more civilians daily. But he quickly added that the "firmness" would be political _ not shooting the way through.

The effort is also based on the same year-old peace plan the Serbs have repeatedly rejected.

More perspective came from the new European mediator, former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, who reported to the leaders on his first trip to the area and later told journalists:

"I said that we are more likely to head for war than for peace in the period immediately ahead."

Bildt did say that he had been mildly encouraged to read news reports quoting Sen. Bob Dole, Republican leader in the Senate and candidate for the American presidency, that the question of lifting the arms embargo on Bosnia was being put on the back burner.

Bildt hoped that was true, because if not it would have a "detrimental effect on the peace process" and could "undermine progress."

On employment, the leaders vowed to cut red tape and fiscal charges on small- and medium-sized enterprises that would play the "pre-eminent role" in creating jobs. Chirac said he was happy to hear his own words coming back when others said that every decision should be made with regard to the effect it would have on employment.

The meeting also reaffirmed that the leaders were committed to having a single European currency by the end of the century for those who could meet the strict economic criteria _ a date that Major begged to doubt in insisting that he had been wise to give Britain an opt-out.

The summit also finally agreed on apportioning EU foreign aid. Eastern European countries destined for membership early in the next century would get $8.8-billion over the next five years, countries along the southern shore of the Mediterranean $6.1-billion and 70 countries of the Third World some $17.5-billion.

Chirac digressed to say that it was "shocking" and "irresponsible" for the United States to be cutting back aid to countries whose growing number of mouths to feed would destabilize the world in 25 years unless they were helped to develop enough to feed and employ their people at home.

The summit agreed to go ahead with forming a police intelligence unit, Europol. But in what Chirac said was a desire not to make trouble for Major at home, they put off the decision on whether it should come under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

Major said Britain would never agree to this infringement on the power of national courts.

Other decisions:

In view of the latest Russian move to negotiate with the small Caucasus republic of Chechnya after destroying much of it, the leaders decided to move forward with an "interim trade agreement" they previously put on hold.

They will push ahead with the "great projects" of public works designed to improve road and rail communications and generate more power.

On Tuesday afternoon, the leaders of 11 candidate countries were invited to sit around the conference table. It was the second time for the six countries of Eastern Europe who will be first to join early in the next century. For the three Baltic countries, Cyprus and Malta it was the first time.

"That it happened in Cannes was profoundly moving," Chirac said emotionally afterward. "We can imagine that Europe will be entirely reunified in 10 years. It's historic.

"Little by little, we are constructing Europe."

Undoubtedly, but Chirac's conference did little more than look ahead to the overwhelming issue of how decisions, already difficult in a Europe of 15 countries, will be made when the membership includes all the 26 countries, great and small, that were around the table Tuesday afternoon.

Rewriting the EU constitution to include them will begin next year. Then will come the hard part, with Germany urging a move toward federalism, Britain with or without Major resisting, and Chirac's France in the middle.