DUBLIN SUMMIT: Europe's hard core takes solid form

John Lichfield, Chief Foreign Writer, argues that this may be a meeting that marks a historic change in the European Union

In Dublin's fair city...or the rocky road to Dublin?

European Union leaders assembling in Dublin today for a two-day summit have a splendid tradition to maintain. Love it, or hate it, much of the recent history of the EU has been shaped by summits in Dublin.

It was at Dublin in 1979 that Margaret Thatcher refused "half a loaf" and set the scene for the row with other European governments over "my money" which dominated the early 1980s. It was at Dublin in 1984 that commitments were given - by Mrs Thatcher, among others - that led to the 1992 Single Market campaign and the Single European Act, which consumed Euro-politics for five years. The Dublin summit of 1990 was dominated by the Franco-German ideas for monetary and political union, which led directly to the Maastricht Treaty, EMU and a thousand Euro-sceptic tirades.

And Dublin, December 1996? In one sense, this is just a wait-and-see summit. Wait and see who wins the British election next year. Wait and see what emerges from the negotiations on EU treaty reform which will not end before next summer, at the earliest. Wait and see which countries qualify and sign up for economic and monetary union at the start of the following year (when the playful sense of humour of EU timetablers sends the early 1998 summit to London).

But Dublin 1996, today and tomorrow, may prove to be just as memorable as its predecessors.

It may well be the occasion when the shadowy concept of a "core Europe" - an inner group of states, ready to push ahead of the others - will be given flesh and bone. It may enshrine the year 2001 as the new 1992: the target date for the EU to deliver its 40-year-old promise of complete freedom of movement for its people (not just their goods and services) within a common border. And since the British, in the shape of Messrs Major and Rifkind, are likely to sit (metaphorically) sulking in the corner while both these ideas are agreed in principle, Dublin could mark the beginning of a process of marginalisation of the UK which may, or may not, be interrupted by the result of the general election.

EU finance ministers were meeting in Dublin yesterday to try to resolve the differences between Paris and Bonn over who will run economic policy in the "euro zone" after the single currency - the euro - becomes a reality in 1999. This is not just a technical dispute. It reaches to the heart of the way Germany and France have run their economies and the way the euro will be managed. Germany wants the management of the currency left mostly to the technocrats of the new European central bank in Frankfurt. France wants the bank to be shadowed by a political organisation - a stability council - which would set many of the parameters for management of the euro and take the final, political decisions on when to punish laggard member states.

If Britain was likely to join EMU, we would surely back the French view that fundamental, economic decisions should be made by politicians. As it is, the Major government is deeply suspicious of the "stability council", because it fears that it will, in practice, become the mission control for a "core Europe": a group of EU states which will pre-digest many aspects of EU and economic policy among themselves, pushing Britain and others to the margins.

Originally the Dublin summit was also supposed to be an important staging- post in the process of EU institutional reform - the inter-governmental conference - launched earlier this year. By general agreement, serious discussion of many of the most bitterly contested issues, particularly the national veto and the voting power of larger countries, will be delayed until after the UK election. But the French and Germans are seeking preliminary discussion of another of the potential building blocks of "core Europe": the idea that the treaty should be changed to allow groups of like-minded countries to go ahead with new, common European policies, even if another member state objects. Britain insists any individual state should be able to block a new policy, even one it does not have to to take part in. France and Germany say unwilling states should be able to stand aside but not block the others.

What kind of new policies? The most obvious candidate would be the proposals to be tabled by the Irish government today for rapid progress in the demolition of internal EU barriers to the movement of individuals. Dublin suggests this should be completed by 2001, making it just as easy to travel, or move home, from, say, Antwerp to Naples, as within one country. To make this possible, new common policies, under formal EU law, are suggested for immigration, asylum-seekers, visas, and the fight against organised crime, drugs and terrorism.

Britain begs to differ, arguing that control of national borders is one of the fundamental prerogatives, and badges of office, of a sovereign state. Dublin is an awkward place for Her Majesty's Government to have to make this argument. Why has sovereign Britain never felt the need for a systematically policed border with Ireland?

News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Text messaging changes as a relationship evolves
life
News
The comedian, 42, made the controversial comment following the athlete’s sentencing to five years for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp on Tuesday
peopleComedian's quip about Reeva Steenkamp was less than well received at music magazine awards
Sport
Cristiano Ronaldo in action for Real Madrid
football
News
peoplePerformer had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?