PARIS -- Clearly chastened by the closeness of France's vote Sunday to approve a treaty on European Community union, Western Europe's leading governments tried yesterday to revive the region's flagging unity drive by pledging to pay greater attention to the concerns of ordinary citizens.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany and President Francois Mitterrand of France agreed to meet in Paris today to discuss ways of making the European Community more answerable to public opinion. Prime Minister John Major of Britain said the French vote reflected widely held fears of loss of national identity.
Meeting at the United Nations, EC foreign ministers pledged to complete ratification of the Maastricht treaty, but Britain was at odds over the timing.
The ministers stressed that the treaty should not be renegotiated and that ratification should be speedy -- but without a firm deadline. The end of the year had been the target. They also urged Denmark to hold a new referendum to reverse its earlier rejection of the treaty.
With the final result showing France's "yes" winning by just 51.05 percent of the votes, EC governments suddenly recognized that their ambitious union treaty may also be vulnerable to grass-roots rebellions in other countries.
Under the treaty, the 12-nation EC aims to adopt common foreign and security policies and to create a single currency and central bank by 1999. The treaty's goal of "political union" was proclaimed as a step toward a more centralized federal Europe.
In France, exit polls suggested that the notion of a European super-state was a major factor in Sunday's vote: Fear of a loss of sovereignty and resistance to the power of unelected technocrats at the community's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, were the two main reasons given for opposing the treaty.
As the main architects of the treaty, Mr. Mitterrand and Mr. Kohl are now expected to look for some dramatic gesture that might bolster faith in European union when they meet.
Mr. Kohl, who must still guide the treaty through ratification by his Parliament, yesterday acknowledged the "misunderstandings" and "anxieties" created by the unity debate. "It is important that all German citizens know that this treaty will not lead to doing away with the identity of Germany, or Italy, or France," he said.
His spokesman, Dieter Vogel, said that the chancellor, who spoke by telephone yesterday with Mr. Mitterrand, Mr. Major and other European leaders, would also address "the concerns, fears, worries among the public related to the treaty" in a policy speech to Parliament on Friday.
Doubts about the treaty are now focused on Britain. Mr. Major remains committed to its ratification, which in Britain is to be performed by Parliament. But he is facing a growing anti-treaty mutiny inside his Conservative Party.
As the current holder of the community's rotating presidency, Mr. Major has called a European summit meeting in London early next month "to take a profound look at where Europe is going."
The London meeting is expected to debate ways of reinforcing democratic control over technocratic power, but it also must address Denmark's narrow rejection of the treaty in June. The treaty can enter into effect only after ratification by all 12 EC members, and Denmark's partners still hope to make it acceptable to Danish voters without reopening negotiations.