But where are the declarations of love between peoples?: Andrew Marr reflects on the big issues the summit agenda ignores

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The Independent Online
SO WHERE, in all this, do the ordinary people fit in? Europe's leaders strive to protect their grand vision, which they call 'an ever-closer union of peoples'. And the peoples themselves? A few - French paysans, Danish socialists, Greek nationalists, Scottish home-rulers - march and catcall. But most care not at all.

They do not see that cohesion, subsidiarity, and the rest of the constitutional imbroglio being haggled about at Edinburgh matters to their lives. These are chill times, with other imperatives. John Major told the rest yesterday over lunch it was vital for the Community to prove its relevance to the people. Yet the growth package being prepared will be modest. And when British briefers told a room full of journalists last night that he had urged other countries to follow Britain's economic lead, there was loud, derisive laughter. Other measures of immediate moment - such as interest rates and the Gatt trade talks - have been pushed off the agenda.

This has been a year the European leaders ought to have seen as a serious warning. In 1992, painful outside shocks were administered to the Community. The collapse of Communism made the countries outside it less stable. Migrations started and civil war arrived. German unification provoked a monetary crisis. Recession slouched along.

It became clear through all this that affection for the European project was only skin-deep, or at least much shallower than Europe's political elite had realised. Across the Community, resentment took different forms, but it was evident almost everywhere. This was the year that reminded us about older, darker European emotions: nationalism, protectionism and fear of foreigners. And how near they lurk to the bright surface of Euro-optimism.

But it was the year, too, when the European leaders became deeply and obsessively involved in constitution-making. This was not their fault. Maastricht was not a folie de grandeur but the product of economic and political logic, intended eventually to make the Community more relevant and useful.

Even so, Europe's leaders might have been asking themselves more urgently whether they had thought enough, and tried hard enough, to foster the living spirit of union, rather than its legal shell. A promise by Labour or the Tories to ensure that every British child left school fluent in either German or French would have done more for Europe than a thousand Commons debates.

Great comings-together of people tend to be pushed by economics or ideology, rather than by the exertions of jurists. And so, perhaps, it will be this time. The New Europe will be forged, if it ever is, when young Britons and Spaniards find jobs and partners in Germany and France, and vice- versa. Tourism matters more than declarations of love between governments. Growth or recession matters more than treaties.

Federalist politics can speed a union that is happening already - which is why Edinburgh does matter and why Maastricht, one day, may do some good. But when Europe's citizens treat the self- importance of the summiteers with amusement or indifference, their instincts are sound.