A NEW global entity is developing in Europe. ``The Community'' is far from a union of states, yet the American visitor returning to this continent after two decades is impressed with the extent of the legal and institutional ties that more and more bind 12 European nations. The press in London is at the present time paying special attention to the Community. In accord with the EC practice of a six-month rotation of the chair of the Council of Ministers, the United Kingdom presides over this body until the end of the year. In addition, the British Parliament, in parallel with the legislatures of other member countries, is proceeding with the ratification of the single European act that will make further changes in the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Community.
The extent of the present ties are recounted in The Economist of Nov. 8. The Council of Ministers in Brussels fixes farm prices and rules on commercial fishing. The European Commission has exclusive rights to run antitrust policy in all 12 member nations, directly prosecuting and fining violating companies. The Commission controls the amount of cash and other aid governments can give to their own industries. The representative of the Commission speaks for the Community in trade negotiations.
The growing body of law being created by the EC takes precedence over the laws of individual nations. National parliaments are obliged to pass legislation to bring their laws into conformity with directives issued by the ministers in Brussels. The European Court of Justice is the final arbiter of Community law.
Institutions spread among the member countries and created within the Community framework regularly bring together those in special fields. The European Institute for the Media, for example, in Manchester, England, brings together executives and program directors of national television and press organizations.
At the same time, it is clear that formidable obstacles remain in the way of any closer political union. Those who discuss the progress of the Community are quick to caution that few speak any longer of a United States of Europe.
Ancient antagonisms and stereotypes lie beneath the surface. Separate national interests, whether it be the preservation of French identity or the concern of the Germans over their relations with Eastern Europe, inhibit closer political ties. Practical issues also lie in the way, such as West Germany's problem of reconciling Community responsibilities with the rights of individual German states.
Here in the United Kingdom, although Margaret Thatcher is enthusiastic about the Community, many worry about the threat to national sovereignty and to British identity - even from the relatively small steps taken to date. Some, especially in the depressed areas of northern England, express concern that their region will become a backwater to the more prosperous areas on the Continent.
Throughout the EC, a more fundamental issue relates to Europe's capacity to compete with the United States and Japan, especially in the field of high technology. Despite the progress to date in the Community, national barriers still prevent the degree of cooperation in research and manufacture believed essential to a strong role in today's industrial world.
The potential for a much stronger Europe is there. Evan Laurd, a former British MP writing in the autumn issue of International Affairs, points out that ``the combined gross national products of the countries of the European Community are larger than those of the United States or the Soviet Union. The Community's total population is greater than that of either. Its armed forces include the weaponry of two nuclear powers and over two million men under arms.''
The US attitude toward the cohesion of Europe has always been somewhat ambivalent: an inherent sympathy for the idea of union and a feeling that Europe should stand more ``on its own feet,'' mixed with skepticism about the possibility of union and concern over the economic and strategic consequences of a strong Europe going its own way.
Nevertheless, to this observer the creation has taken form; given the tragic history of a nationally fragmented Europe, it is one that merits, not apprehension, but encouragement.
David D. Newsom is spending a sabbatical leave from Georgetown University at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.