Opening his party's campaign for the European elections yesterday, the Liberal Democrat leader said the tragedy of Sarajevo was 'a symbol of Europe's failure'.
'If you want to see the biggest failure of Maastricht, you will find it in the cellars of Sarajevo,' Mr Ashdown told a European rally of Liberal Democrats in Torquay.
'The tragedy we have witnessed in ex-Yugoslavia is not just the nightmare return of Europe's past. It is also a terrible prediction of Europe's future if we will not act.
'In Bosnia we see a resurgence of the very destructive tribalism that the founders of the European Community vowed to banish from our continent,' Mr Ashdown said.
Committing his party to fight on a positive platform, Mr Ashdown embraced European federalism.
He said the 'f' word stood for 'forward-looking, fair and free'. He went on: 'We must not dissemble, like the Tories and the Danish Conservatives, about the true nature of political integration . . . Neither do we favour the socialists' pattern of command economies.'
Mr Ashdown called for the European Parliament to be given equal powers with the Council of Ministers. And he said Liberal Democrats would not win seats 'by talking about negative assent procedure or qualified majority voting'.
But he was accused of abandoning Britain's veto in Europe by Sir Norman Fowler, the chairman of the Conservative Party. The Conservative manifesto would promote free trade and free markets, Sir Norman said.
'Labour will be bound by the manifesto they have signed - even if John Smith (the Labour leader) hasn't read it first. Now Paddy Ashdown will sign up to the manifesto of what he describes as a 'trans-national' party.'
Sir Norman promised that the Tory manifesto for the European elections in June would be distinctly British. He distanced his party from the federalist manifesto of the European People's Party, the Conservative umbrella grouping in the European Parliament.
'We will make national action the rule and Community action the exception - setting clear limits to the tasks we want the European Community to undertake,' he said.
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