EU defies Major over new treaty

Detailed plans will horrify Euro-sceptics
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The Independent Online
Britain's European partners are making detailed plans for the future shape of the EU which take little or no account of the concerns of British Conservatives, the Independent on Sunday has learned.

The plans, which appear in official draft versions of the next big European Union treaty, call for new European citizenship rights, suggest full employment as an objective and map out moves towards a defence role for the EU.

Such proposals are certain to alarm the Government and horrify Tory Euro-sceptics. They also provide ammunition to Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Party, which held a conference in Brighton yesterday where the air rang with denunciations of the idea of ever-closer union.

Among proposals contained in the drafts which are potential flashpoints are:

A new employment chapter which Mr Major strongly opposes, including steps to co-ordinate national employment policies and develop a common strategy.

An advisory committee on employment, a corporatist body to consult with unions and management - anathema to British Conservatives.

Potentially explosive changes to the Maastricht treaty's provisions on common defence policy.

Provisions to enable other EU states to forge ahead in the face of opposition from Britain, effectively creating a two-speed Europe - again something the Government opposed.

Clauses enshrining the right of European citizens to an education which takes account of Europe's common heritage, values and cultural diversity.

A proposal to create political parties at a European level and to give European citizens the right to call on the EU's institutions to take action.

Tougher commitments to equality between men and women - something backed by the Irish EU presidency which would fly in the face of Conservative concerns over the creeping extension of EU citizenship rights.

British sources said yesterday that many of these proposals would be unacceptable, and argued that other countries, including Germany, would be unlikely to support them. But the signals from other European capitals are that the draft treaty in circulation will receive widespread acceptance.

Taken together with Franco-German steps - reported in the Independent yesterday - to ensure that the EU will no longer "have to progress at the pace of the slowest ship", these plans represent a serious challenge to Mr Major.

There are some points with which he will be satisfied: the plans for common foreign and security policy, for example, which take account of British suggestions for a strategy and planning directorate.

But the ideas on defence are radical. For the first time, papers circulating in Brussels raise the prospect of reducing national vetoes over security and defence matters. They also refer to progressive moves towards "common defence" in what is being seen as the first formal suggestions that the EU might develop into a security organisation. That would also be anathema to Britain, which has fought to promote the role of Nato as Europe's paramount protection.

Areas of joint activity are fleshed out, including humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping and crisis management involving "military means" - the first time defence issues have been put within the EU's purview.

Nor is there much respect for Mr Major's hard-won victories at Maastricht, when justice and home affairs were ring-fenced as areas where power remains with national capitals, safe from encroachment. Proposals, being resisted fiercely in Whitehall, suggest that qualified majority voting might be employed to press for greater areas of co-operation in the justice and home affairs arena, again eliminating the national veto.

Britain is pressing for several amendments, including one to clamp down on quota-hopping by Spanish fishermen, one on animal welfare and one aimed at maintaining border controls.

The tone of the proposals will confirm the worst suspicions of Euro- sceptics, but in one sense they also give Mr Major an opportunity. The chance is growing that he will highlight several areas of the proposed treaty as unacceptable, and then challenge Labour to do the same in the run-up the general election.

European leaders accept that a settlement on the new treaty is unlikely to be reached until the Amsterdam summit next June - after the British general election.