The Vote of Confidence: National tensions 'threaten unity'

WHILE Parliament and the courts dispute the Maastricht treaty, the fate of European union is being fought out on other battlefields.

The main policy areas which the treaty included are all threatened by national disputes. British officials in Brussels say that it is these struggles that will determine the fate of the Community.

The crisis in the European Monetary System that began last year, claiming the pound, now threatens its very existence. Yet the EMS is the foundation stone upon which the single currency and joint economic policies are to be built.

The second pillar of the Maastricht treaty is common foreign and security policy. The EC's attempt to co-ordinate its approach to the former- Yugoslavia crisis has been beset by squabbles.

The third pillar is immigration policy and co-operation between justice ministries. The rows between France and its partners over dropping border controls, Britain's insistence that some frontier control is necessary, and Germany's problems with refugees cast a shadow over what can be achieved.

Against this can be set the real achievements in all areas. There is already an enormous amount of co-operation and coordination.

What is really at stake is the way that co-ordination is handled, and how far it leads to real political integration. Maastricht, by creating a federal union, was supposed to be the first step towards a political unit that brought all 12 members into one structure.

By admitting that Britain and Denmark could opt out of some activities, it compromised the principle. What remains to be seen is how far the structure of the Community can be preserved.

If pressure on the French franc continues, there is a possibility that France and Germany will push ahead with a form of monetary union.

The collapse of the EMS, or the weakening of Maastricht, could bring the real risk of a renationalisation of policies. Trade policy is already a matter of dispute and if co-operation weakens further the single market itself - which John Major has always held up as the EC's greatest success and a British creation - could be undermined.

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