AUSTRIA'S resounding majority in favor of joining the European Union will doubtless spur a pro-European vote in the three Nordic countries that are conducting similar referendums later this year.
Even more significantly, Austria's pro-Europe vote should also set an example to East European governments of how a stable, middle-of-the-road government may be achieved: Austrians who voted 2 to 1 on June 12 for joining Europe opted also for the kind of consensus government the East Europeans most need.
Above all, consensus-style government would help them more-smoothly and more-quickly turn former one-party states into democratic ones. At present, most of their parliaments are fragmented by many small parties and old ideological divisions.
Consensus politics has kept this small country at the heart of Europe more politically tranquil and economically viable than most other European states, big or small, for the past 40 years.
At the start, Austria's system was not free from absurdities. A much-abused system of proporz (balance) ensured that nearly all public jobs had to be shared between the two major parties - the Social Democratic Party and the People's Party, which have governed Austria virtually since the last war.
But steadily, a more sophisticated balance evolved on a national social scale, now a social pact exists between industrial employers and labor: This seems to have found a response in Hungary's election results on May 28, which may bring about a coalition government between the ex-Communists and the liberal Free Democrats.
In Poland, multiparty elections have produced five prime ministers in fewer years after the collapse of Communist rule in 1989. Last September, a score of parties - most no more than small factions - fought the polls. The coalition cobbled together by the two parties topping the list, the ex-Communists and Agrarians, have had a bumpy passage since and face an uncertain future.