Germany wedded to vision of unification

Bonn's desire for integration remains resolute, writes Imre Karacs
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Germany goes into today's European summit armed with modest proposals for streamlining the community, but behind the conciliatory rhetoric lurks a vision untainted by recent rows over the future of the continent.

In an interview on the eve of the summit, Karl Lamers, a prominent foreign policy strategist in the governing Christian Democratic Union, predicted that Britain would not be able to resist closer integration - a process that inevitably will lead to the creation of a federal government of Europe.

Mr Lamers, who whipped up a storm in Britain last year with proposals for the creation of a hard-core Europe excluding Euro-sceptic states, has seen some elements of his blueprint elevated to official policy in the past week. Last Thursday, France and Germany jointly called for an amendment to the Maastricht treaty enabling member states in the fast lane of integration to "strengthen" ties among themselves.

"I was very pleased with the outcome of the Franco-German summit, as it made proposals for a clause in the new treaty for what we call 'core Europe'," Mr Lamers said.

The most important example of this will be monetary union, which Germany insists must begin in 1999, with "six to eight members" initially.

Despite British opposition to the common currency, London's eventual participation in EMU figures prominently in the German script. "I am greatly convinced that Britain will join," Mr Lamers said. "It's only for political reasons that Britain is unable to say this now openly."

The economic arguments in favour of monetary union are well rehearsed. A common market needs a common currency, and the rising hegemony of the Deutschmark is putting strains on Europe's economies and fuelling resentment against German power across the continent. But the motives of those pushing the common currency are far removed from economics. They want the euro, ecu, or whatever it is to be called, to cement member states together in perpetuity.

"Currency union is part of political union - a central part of political union," Mr Lamers conceded. Once that Rubicon is crossed, no country will be able to resist closer integration. "If - I should say when - Britain joins, I think it will be the end of the British position, which is half in and half out," Mr Lamers predicted. "That will no longer be possible."

But even the wildest optimists in Bonn accept that this state of affairs is a long way away, not least because Britain resists the "federalist slide" at every step. One of the main areas of conflict at today's summit and next year's inter-governmental conference will be the question of qualified majority voting on important community matters. On many issues, member states already vote by majority.

Bonn is adamant that the abolition of the right of veto in other key policy areas is essential if Europe is to have a coherent voice. "In the long term, it is impossible that one country should prevent others from doing what's needed to be done," Mr Lamers said. "Again and again, British representatives, including Tony Blair, say only the common will matters, not the decision-making system."

But German efforts to recruit other states to this cause have not been entirely successful, with France still holding out against qualified majority voting on foreign policy. "I do not deny that there are still differences between France and Germany, but on the other hand we have made many far- reaching agreements," said Mr Lamers, citing recent examples of military co-operation.

Nevertheless, Bonn is concerned that the Franco-German axis is not pulling its weight in the push for closer integration. There are worries about the turmoil in France and Paris's ability to meet the criteria for monetary union, and suspicions linger about French commitment to co-operation in the fight against terrorism and crime.

For these reasons, presenting a united front against London's foot-draggers will be difficult. In the areas of defence, justice and home affairs, Bonn has the backing of Italy, Spain and the Benelux countries. The other member states, while standing aloof from Britain, remain cool to some German proposals, or want to tread a more cautious path.

Despite these setbacks, Germany is optimistic that the momentum behind integration cannot be stopped. "I am absolutely certain that the process of European unification is of a historic character, similar to the process that erected the nation states," Mr Lamers said.

"I hope that in 10 years' time we will not only be striving for a European government, but we will have some kind of European government. And if we have a European state, then I hope it will be of a federal kind, and not a centralised one. We are of course strictly against a centralised government."