The same nationalistic impulses that account for the weaknesses of the European Economic Community are also a potential source of strength. Its members are all practicing democracies, responsive to profit motives, economic stagnation and crushing unemployment. Not only are they capable of decision- making, collectively, when their interests coincide, but all the tools are at hand: an "executive" European Commission, a "legislative" European Council and the authorization in the 1957 Treaty of Rome. All that's been lacking is a readiness to surrender sovereignty to some degree of supranational authority and an awareness of the price the member states are paying and will increasingly pay for their failure to make good on the EEC's original promise.

What are the odds now?

Here at EEC headquarters, you get two answers. The first is, don't hold your breath; this organization moves oh, so slowly. The second, firmly grounded on EEC's often torpid and sometimes turbulent history of painful progress, is more positive.

Public opinion polls dwell on "Europessimism." Economic experts say this has to do with "Eurosclerosis." But the latest effort to capture the mood is called "Eurorealism" -- a developing willingness, as one old hand puts it, to "face real issues and look for an answer."

Now that doesn't race pulses, even in Europe. In the United States the mere mention of the EEC is a room- emptier. Brief bulletins report that the Europeans are at it again over the price of fish or turkeys or who pays or doesn't pay a fair share of the bills. One hears of doors angrily slammed and resentfully reopened. But you may have noticed that these are things families fight about -- and that's the point. Over time, the EEC capitals have acquired not only the worst but the best habits of family life.

Far from splitting asunder or taking up arms as many of these same 10 nations used to do, they have recently agreed to broaden the community's membership by taking in Spain and Portugal. France so resented the EEC's supranational tendencies that it withdrew in 1965 for some months. Recently, the French made available one of their most respected civil servants for the presidency of the commission. The British created the recent crisis over cost-sharing. But it was not Britain's case so much as the way Prime Minister Thatcher put it that made the battle so long and so embittering. Agricultural subsidies have always been a problem. But a common agriculture policy may now be within reach.

The big challenge ahead is a common currency, for reasons expressed by one commission official: "Don't tell me America would be better off if the dollar fluctuated between New York and Chicago -- like hell it would." He and others dream of the day when European entrepreneurs -- and not just the big ones -- can contemplate new ventures with unrestricted access to a market embracing a population of 270 million people. And these experts also believe that pressure from business, labor and farmers will make it happen.

Skeptics disagree. But my hunch is that when enough Europeans fully recognize the technological threat from abroad and are reminded that they have the means to do something about it in the Treaty of Rome, they will -- slowly -- do something about it.