Two-tier Europe looms closer

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The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR is being backed into a corner over the Maastricht treaty, as European politicians and officials threaten to push ahead without Britain if it cannot speedily ratify the agreement.

Helmut Kohl, the German Chancellor, yesterday mounted a passionate defence of Maastricht. 'The government and I will do everything in our power in the coming weeks and months to have the Maastricht treaty implemented as planned,' he told the German parliament. 'If we do not now all use the opportunity the Maastricht treaty offers, the Community will be thrown back by several years.' But he warned: 'No one in Europe, and I repeat no one, should delude himself that he can alone secure economic stability and prosperity.'

Though no head of government will confirm it, the idea that a group of EC states might proceed on their own with monetary union has been rumoured all over the EC in the past few days.

Theo Waigel, the German Finance Minister, discussed it with members of his party on Thursday night, according to insiders. They said he told a meeting of the Christian Social Union that Germany, France, the Benelux states and Denmark could fulfill the conditions for a common monetary policy.

Alfons Verplaetse, chairman of the Belgian National Bank, called for a five-country European single currency with the same countries but not including Denmark. After Britain's unceremonious departure from the exchange rate mechanism, other EC states are desperate to ensure some sort of monetary stability.

There seems to be little understanding in other EC capitals of Mr Major's problems within the Conservative Party. The threat of British isolation is clearly being used as a stick to goad Parliament into ratification of the treaty. But the threat is no less real, Sir Leon Brittan, Britain's senior EC commissioner, warned yesterday. 'There is a real risk of a two-speed Europe,' he said in an interview with the BBC.

Sir Leon said: 'It has been a nightmare for British prime ministers of all parties for a generation that there should be a grouping on the Continent which would have a huge impact on our economy, and even on our security, which we would not be in, and over which we would have no control.'

Even Jacques Delors, the European Commission President, who has always opposed a two-tier Europe, suggested on Thursday that it might now be inevitable.

Several European politicians have pointed out that a rupture in the EC has in effect already happened. 'I can't imagine that the Maastricht treaty has even the slighest chance,' said Wilhelm Nolling, a member of the Bundesbank's central council.

Europe's Christian Democrat leaders last night ruled out any possibility of a two-speed Europe, but they issued a statement insisting on the 'rapid ratification of the treaty, if possible by the end of the year'. This they said obviously included monetary union. To this end the EMS must be maintained: 'and its rules correctly applied'.

Kohl says 'Press on', page 9