The Conservatives in Brighton: Lamont tells of treaty's curbs on bureaucrats

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Indy Politics
THE MAASTRICHT treaty made great progress in drawing a demarcation line between the powers of Brussels and the individual nations of the European Community, Norman Lamont said in Brighton last night.

In the annual lecture to the Conservative Political Centre, on the conference fringe, the Chancellor dashed any vestige of suspicion that his known hostility to the exchange rate mechanism had tainted his support for the Maastricht agreement.

Mr Lamont said the great party debate over Europe had been beset by misunderstanding; under John Major's leadership there was no question of the creation of a European state.

That was not on the cards, although he warned: 'Those who seem to think you can build a Euro-state without wholehearted consent should look at Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union and learn.'

But in steering a careful course between federalist rocks and the hard fears of the party Thatcherites, he also said: 'The narrow nationalists fail to understand the idea of European co-operation has strong roots and growing resonance with people right across the Continent.'

He said: 'Those things for which we want Europe to work together - such as free trade, fair competition, and prosperity - can be achieved by cooperation between nation states within a Community with the minimum necessary framework of rules and do not require the creation of a superstate.

'Similarly, we want to work closely together in tackling new problems like drugs, terrorism, migration. But in these areas, building on the relationships forged through the Community, work is best conducted between national governments as envisaged in the Maastricht treaty.'

Nevertheless, he accepted that the history of the Community pointed to a real danger of a Brussels bureaucracy bent on its own expansion.

In the strongest language of the speech, indeed, Mr Lamont spoke of Brussels 'persecution', 'bossing', 'meddling', and of some its edicts being being 'petty-minded' to the point of making the Commission a laughing stock.

But he stressed that Maastricht marked a signal change in that centralisation. Subsidiarity, the Chancellor said, was a concept that fitted in neatly 'with a key principle that Conservatives have long applied to government activity in general: namely, that the state should concentrate on doing those things it can do effectively.'

Mr Lamont said that the Community should concentrate on improving its performance, on issues such as the Common Agricultural Policy and spending, rather than extending its competence.

As for the concept of 'ever-closer union', to which Maastricht referred, he said that should mean 'closer ties between European people through trade and culture', although he conceded that there were others who were pressing, privately and publicly, for federalism.

'It is possible to be positive about the future of Europe,' he said, 'without subscribing to every idea for its development or being carried away by delusions of a politically unified state.

'As a Conservative, and as a British subject, I do have ambitions for Europe. Ambitions tempered by realism, to enlarge the economic potential and maximise the political influence of the nations of Europe without denying to any of them the right to be a self-governing nation. Free trade. More opportunity to travel and work across Europe. Co-operation with our partners to safeguard our interests. Stamping out fraud and corruption. Keeping order in the Community's finances. Genuine partnership without unnecessary interference from Brussels.

'Achievement of these ambitions, rather than the perilous construction of a grandiose political superstructure, would create a Community held in high regard by the citizens of all its members.

'So now it is our responsibility, not to turn our backs on Europe, but to join with the Prime Minister and use the huge influence of our nation and our party to ensure the Community becomes the workable, practical, success we want to see.'