PARIS, JAN. 15 -- Bowing to pressure from Germany, the 12 member countries of the European Community formally recognized Croatia and Slovenia today as independent nations, a move that essentially confirmed the dissolution of Yugoslavia.

The Community's action, following months of heated debate, was quickly emulated by Canada, Austria, Switzerland and several other countries. But the United States said it would not bestow recognition until a peace settlement was achieved in the civil war that has raged for more than six months between Croatia and the Serbian-led forces that have sought to preserve the union.

The decision to proceed with recognition was made after the Community decided that the two breakaway republics satisfied its conditions on democracy and human rights. While the homogeneous Slovene state posed no problem in meeting such criteria, Croatia had to give fresh guarantees Tuesday that it would respect the rights of its Serbian minority.

The German government hailed today's event as a historic development and immediately opened embassies in the two republics. But France and Britain, which still harbor doubts about the wisdom of early recognition, said they would wait to see if Croatia fulfilled its promises on human rights before carrying out an exchange of ambassadors.

Despite warnings by United Nations special envoy Cyrus Vance that international recognition of Croatia and Slovenia would provoke Serbian forces into expanding the war, a U.N.-sponsored cease-fire -- the 15th since the conflict erupted -- still seems to be holding with relatively few violations.

"The German policy on Yugoslavia has proved correct," said German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. "We've said for months that if the Community decided on recognition . . . that would initiate a process of rethinking, above all by the leadership of the Yugoslav army."

The recognition issue has stirred deep divisions within the Community ever since June 25 when Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence, igniting the civil war that has killed up to 10,000 people and left more than 600,000 homeless.

Germany, imbued with the fervor of its own reunification, argued in favor of respecting the right of self-determination for Croats and Slovenes. But France and Britain, anxious about preserving the integrity of national frontiers, did not want to set a precedent for the dismantling of established nations, including the Soviet Union.

Later, as the Soviet Union disintegrated and the fighting in Yugoslavia escalated, France and Britain warned that precipitous moves to recognize the breakaway republics could exacerbate the war. But Germany insisted that only by acknowledging the independence of Croatia and Slovenia could the Community persuade Serbia to make peace.

Last month, the German government shocked its European partners by announcing its intention to recognize, unilaterally if necessary, both republics by Christmas. The German announcement came only days after a summit meeting of Community heads of government had reached agreement on an ambitious plan to achieve closer political and economic unity, including a common foreign policy, by the end of the decade.

Confronted by Germany's assertive stand and desperate to maintain a unified Community position, the other EC countries agreed to grant recognition today to those republics seeking independence if they could prove their commitments to democracy, human rights and the peaceful resolution of border disputes.

An EC panel headed by the French jurist Robert Badinter was appointed to review the claims of the Yugoslav republics seeking independence. The report offered clear approval for Slovenia but expressed some qualms about Croatia's guarantees for the 600,000 Serbs living there. The Community's blessing for Croatia was given only after its president, Franjo Tudjman, provided written assurances on Tuesday that his government would respect Serbian rights.

The Community held off on granting recognition to the two other republics seeking independence, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Macedonia. EC officials in Brussels said they were concerned by the absence of legal protection for minorities among the volatile mix of ethnic and religious groups living in Bosnia.

Macedonia, while meeting the EC's terms for democracy and human rights, has aroused territorial fears in Greece, an EC member. The Greek government wants Macedonia to change its name as a sign of its willingness to renounce any claims on Greek land.

Officials in Bonn announced today that Germany expects to win agreement soon from most European countries to recognize the independence of Bosnia and Macedonia, correspondent Marc Fisher reported from Berlin. EC officials said the problems in both cases could be resolved soon and recognition could proceed, leaving only Serbia and Montenegro as the remnant of federal Yugoslavia. Neither republic has sought independent recognition from the Community.

The Serb-dominated Yugoslav government protested today that the EC recognition of Croatia and Slovenia violated the "sovereign rights of Yugoslavia, which are based on fundamental, modern international legal documents." It also accused the Community of contradicting its own peace-making efforts to reach a comprehensive solution to the Yugoslav crisis.

SLOVENIA: Considered Yugoslavia's most affluent republic, it declared independence June 25, 1991. The republic already controls its own border posts, has introduced its own flag and currency and recently adopted a new constitution.

CROATIA: Along with neighboring Slovenia, Croatia's parliament declared independence June 25, 1991. Serbs opposed to Croatian independence rebelled, sparking the nearly seven-month-long civil war which claimed close to 10,000 lives.

BOSNIA-HERCEGOVINA: Citizens voted for independence in a referendum in October 1991. The government asked for recognition from the European Community (EC) in December but was not recognized.

MACEDONIA: Yugoslavia's poorest republic voted for independence in September 1991. Sought EC recognition but was not granted it. EC member Greece opposes Macedonia's independence, asserting that its name represents a claim to Greek territory.

SERBIA: The largest republic, Serbia has always favored retaining the Yugoslav federation and backed military intervention in Slovenia and Croatia to prevent their secession.

Has proposed forming a new, smaller Yugoslavia, incorporating any republics or national groups that want to join. To date, it appears only Montenegro would join Serbia in such a union.

MONTENEGRO: Along with Serbia, it is the only other republic that has not sought EC recognition.

Sources: The Washington Post; Associated Press.