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After years of high hope, fine talk and hard work, about all that is left of the great postwar dream of European unity is a diminishing gleam in the eyes of thousands of "good Europeans" and one big tangible fact: the Schuman Coal-Steel Community, which pools the coal and steel of France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux nations. Last week the Council of Ministers of the Community met in the Sicilian city of Messina.

Out with "Mr. Europe." First item on the agenda was the election of a new president to replace Jean Monnet, the indefatigable little Frenchman who first proposed the Coal-Steel pool and who has done most to make it work. Monnet resigned last fall in protest against the scuttling of EDC in the French National Assembly and the trend toward nationalism throughout Western Europe. Last month, hoping to stage a comeback for himself on the European idea, Monnet decided to seek re-election after all. But when his name came up last week as a possible French nominee for the job, Premier Edgar Faure turned "Mr. Europe" down.

In his place, the French proposed pipe-smoking René Mayer, 60, who was Premier of France for four months in 1953. An able banker-businessman who has a family connection with the wealthy Rothschilds, Mayer served with De Gaulle in North Africa during World War II. Later, as chief spokesman for the hard-shelled North African colons, it was he who delivered the crucial, brutal Assembly speech which brought down his fellow Radical Socialist and arch-political foe, Premier Pierre Mendès-France (TIME, Feb. 14). He is a sufficiently good European to satisfy the Catholic M.R.P. members of Faure's coalition Cabinet, but he tempers his enthusiasm with enough pragmatic caution to satisfy even the Gaullists.

Go Slow. With Mayer safely elected, the council heard a plea by The Netherlands' Foreign Minister Johan Beyen for a dramatic Monnet-style increase in the Community's powers. Backed by the Benelux nations, the Dutchman proposed 1) a common market for all European products, 2) the integration of European highways and railroads, 3) a European pool for the development of atomic power. But the French wanted to go slow, and the Germans, who used to be ardently supranational when they had no sovereignty to lose, no longer seemed keen to surrender any of their national independence.

The result was a communiqué that opened with an exhortation ("The moment has come to open a new stage on the road toward a United Europe") and ended with a committee ("to study the creation of a common organization .. .") Perhaps too much had been sought too soon, sighed some good Europeans: perhaps this cluster of nations which had so often been a cockpit of war must first learn to work together as nations. Perhaps the slower way was the surer way . . . But it was not said with much enthusiasm.