PARIS. — Paris -- In the Netherlands next month the European heads of government are supposed to consider political union. A draft treaty will be before them. It will serve to demonstrate how remote European political unification really is. Political unification, that is, as the leaders of the European Community have chosen to define unity.
They say they mean a true federal government with a common foreign and defense policy. They seem obsessed by the American precedent: that they are doing the same thing the delegates of the American colonies were doing at the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention in 1787.
Several drafts of the treaty for union have been prepared and discarded -- understandably, since full political union is impossible, and a partial ''union'' is illogical. Worse, they are going about the impossible as well as the illogical the wrong way. The history of the Community has shown the right way to do the impossible.
''Europe'' exists today because the people and governments making it proceeded by small and practical steps of clear mutual advantage, in order to produce large political results. Jean Monnet and Robert Schumann proposed the original plan for pooled German and French coal and steel resources and production because this economic measure promised to make it impossible for the Germans and French to go to war again.
The decision to create the 1993 European Single Market was faithful to this way of doing things. A series of measures eliminating barriers to trade and business, and equalizing norms across Europe, were launched in the understanding that these would create powerful pressures for common budget, tax and social policies inside the Community countries.
The plan for European monetary union conforms to this pattern. There already are fixed exchange rates for the major European currencies and a common currency unit, the Ecu, already widely used in banking and business. A single currency for all of Europe will stimulate not only investment flows but investor confidence, and will bring the member-countries' economic policies closer together.
Germany's unification caused the European governments to abandon this way of making Europe, and to try a great leap forward to full political union. That plus the sudden appearance of nearly a score of new candidates for EC membership.
East Germany is already in the Community, and all of Eastern Europe wants in. The Baltic republics want in. The European Free Trade Association states -- Austria, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland -- are practically in already. Cyprus, Malta and Gibraltar want in. The Soviet successor states will soon want to join.
The original members concluded that now was their last chance to make the Community into a real federation. They wanted in particular to bind Germany firmly into Europe. However, an integrated Europe and a big Europe tend to be mutually exclusive. Even the original six members -- France, Germany, Italy, the Benelux three -- would have had difficulties with true political integration, although it is conceivable that they could have succeeded, had they tried in time.
The 12 present members of the Community thus far have failed to agree even on the meaning of political union. The British will not have it, whatever it is. But France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain (to take the obvious cases) are exceedingly unlikely really to be willing to hand over control of their foreign and defense policies to Brussels, or to majority vote in the EC.
The Yugoslav crisis has shown that the Community cannot completely agree (or effectively act; but perhaps no one could have done that) even in a matter of the greatest importance to Europe's future. The Gulf War last year demonstrated how thoroughly the 12 disagreed on the use of force, on military action outside Europe, and on Mideast policy. How can there be a common European defense and foreign policy with all that unsettled?
Europe already is an integrated economic federation, and can easily enlarge its economic frontiers. Politically, it is a uniquely close confederation of states with common values and a common collective security interest. At the same time it is incapable of united military action abroad and will continue to act in that respect, as in the past, by ad hoc coalitions. Defensively, ,, it is, and will continue to be, a highly effective alliance.
Its continuing economic integration and political cooperation will the future, as in the past, produce more and more advanced arrangements for shared policy-making and common action. However, the present effort to leap forward to some form of federation that the Community has yet to find words even to describe is likely only to do damage.
William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.