Maastricht treaty leak to enrage Eurosceptics

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The Independent Online
A new draft of the Maastricht treaty will enrage Britain's Eurosceptics by calling for the abolition of national border controls, It is likely that Britain would opt out if a majority of countries agree to such a move.

The draft, seen by The Independent, speaks about turning the European Union into "an area of freedom and security," where passport checks on travel between the member states would be scrapped, while rules on immigrants refugees and asylum seekers would for the first time become a matter for EU decision- making.

Seven countries already operate their own open-borders pact, known as the Schengen Agreement, and the proposed treaty changes, drafted by the Irish EU Presidency, would bring this under the scope of EU structures, to apply to all fifteen member states. The European Commission, European Parliament and the EU Court would gain jurisdiction in this area for the first time.

The Irish draft, which has emerged after eight months of negotiation will be unveiled at a meeting of EU foreign ministers tomorrow before going to the European summit in Dublin next week. It seeks to secure the free movement of citizens, enshrined as an aspiration in previous EU treaties, but which in practice has always been blocked by Britain and to some extent Denmark. To achieve this aim, most member states now agree that how they deal with immigrants from non EU countries, including rules on issuing visas should be brought into line. They also want to standardise procedures for the treatment of refugees and the Irish text reflects this suggesting harmonisation of such things as residence permits for family reunions. Irish sources accepted last night that Britain would have serious problems with such a provocative set of proposals. Britain could ultimately opt out if a majority of countries agree to the text.

Europol, the fledgling EU police intelligence sharing agency, would become an operational body under the new version of the treaty, a partial response to the demands of the German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, for the establishment of a "Euro FBI" to tackle drug trafficking and organised crime.

A network of magistrates specialised in the fight against international crime would be set up to work in close cooperation with Europol. In another recommendation which Britain will oppose, the draft proposes making the European Parliament more effective. The number of MEPs would be capped at 700 however. This provides for a maximum increase of 74 deputies to accommodate enlargement of the Union eastward in the years ahead.

Ireland, fearful of an acrimonious collapse in negotiations, has opted to leave what the Dublin government see as the most contentious issues out of the draft."It is unrealistic to expect people to horse trade on these until the eleventh hour" said one source. Negotiations are not expected to conclude until June of next year with the signing of the new treaty in Amsterdam under the Dutch EU presidency.