Major set for collision over `Maastricht 2'

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The Independent Online
Maastricht 2, the European Union's new draft treaty, includes a series of policies which would be entirely unacceptable to the Government, raising the prospect of complete deadlock in Europe until after next year's election.

Proposals covering employment, judicial affairs and human rights would all be unacceptable to the Conservatives as they stand. The treaty is currently under negotiation in the EU's Inter-Governmental Conference, which resumes in Brussels today. So irritated are other states at Britain's intransigence that they are also planning ways of moving ahead without Britain if necessary.

There are three broad areas where the proposed treaty will face outright opposition from London. The first is employment. Most European states, alarmed by the rise in joblessness, are intent on putting in a new chapter that would aim to boost employment and co- ordinate policy across Europe. It would create a new EU employment strategy, put in place incentive measures to create jobs, and set up a new Employment Committee to liaise with trade unions and management.

The second neuralgic proposal is the creation of a new treaty article to defend fundamental rights. This would give the European Court of Justice powers to decide whether states were respecting rights, and allow the EU to penalise states which were deemed to be in breach of their commitments. It would outlaw discrimination on grounds of race, sex, national or ethnic origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion or social origin and add a new policy of creating equality between men and women.

The third area of contention is justice and home affairs, which covers immigration, the fight against crime and legal matters. The draft treaty would again boost the role of the European Court of Justice and the Commission, and introduce majority voting in some areas. It would create a new treaty article covering "freedom, security and justice" which would cover asylum, immigration, the fight against drugs, fraud, and attempt to make Europe's legal systems more compatible.

There is much in the treaty proposals that Britain can accept. The section on foreign policy is largely adapted from British proposals. Though there are some ideas on defence that Britain will not accept, it seems likely to win its arguments in this area. John Major has said that he will strongly resist any attempt to create new powers for Europe, even if that means wielding the British veto to block all progress of a new treaty. The Tories believe they will gain vital electoral support by pursuing a hard line against Brussels, while portraying Labour as poodles of Europe.

Mr Major is now set on a collision course that will run right through to next year's election. Officials meet in Brussels today to discuss the proposed amendments, and ministers will discuss them next Monday. They will be put into a new draft treaty by the time of the second Dublin summit in December, followed by further detailed negotiations leading to a concluding treaty summit in Amsterdam, scheduled for June 1997.

But one leading Tory told The Independent last week that Mr Major would also use the forthcoming battle - in defence of British sovereignty - as a means of countering the public perception that he is "a weak leader". Labour sources are sceptical about the impact of that ploy, noting that Mr Major's "tough" stance on BSE ended in retreat.

The EMU debate, page 8

Leading article, page 13