And not before time. As long ago as 1975 the then President of the Commission, Francois-Xavier Ortoli, said: "European union is not to give birth to a centralising super-state. The Union will be given responsibility only for those matters which member states are no longer capable of dealing with efficiently, other matters being left to member states". This language was echoed two years later by his successor, Roy Jenkins, in a lecture at Florence. But it was not until 1991 at Maastricht that, at the instance of Jacques Delors, the principle of subsidiarity was embodied in a treaty.
Jacques Chirac and Helmut Kohl have not confined themselves to arguing that this principle be more strictly applied in future. Among other things, they also advocate improvement of the working methods of the Council of Ministers and a thorough reform of the structures of the Commission and its services.
With the weight of the three principal members of the Union behind such a programme of reform, there must be a better chance than before that steps will at last be taken to identify the Union more closely with the aspirations and concerns of its citizens.
Apart from this, their clear statement that the objective "has never been and cannot be to build a central European State" should deprive the Eurosceptics of at least one of their spurious arguments.
Sir DONALD MAITLAND
The writer was UK Permanent Representative to the European Community, 1975-79Reuse content