DUBLIN SUMMIT: Going to war against drugs and thugs

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The Independent Online
Sudden promises of a "war on drugs" and a "crackdown on crime" are usually a sign that politicians are failing to achieve their prime objectives and seeking easy popular support.

European heads of government meeting tomorrow in Dublin will promise to fight "drugs and thugs" and will offer a crackdown on illegal immigrants as well. The new draft agreement, which updates the Maastricht treaty, even offers a crime-free wonderland of "freedom, justice and security". It wants all internal border checks to be abolished by 2001.

For all the ambitious proposals on the criminal justice, however, the draft treaty suggests indecision about what direction Europe should take as the final lap in negotiations begins, concluding at the Amsterdam summit next June.

When talks on the inter-governmental conference (IGC) to rewrite the treaty began in Turin last March, pledges were made to bring about far- reaching change, to redesign Brussels policy-making in readiness for the entry of new member states from the east.

Since Turin, however, it has become increasingly apparent that ambitions would have to be curtailed. Public opinion in many member states appears unwilling to accept radical reform just three years after the Maastricht treaty. The Franco-German motor, which drives integration forward, has faltered. And Britain's partners realise that John Major would veto any ambitious plans. They accept that final decisions cannot be made until after the British general election, which must be held by May.

As a result, the draft treaty hedges almost every proposal with "square brackets", "ifs and but" and "alternative ideas". From the current proposals there is little cause to believe the European Union will be anything like ready to accept Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic - never mind other would-be east European members - until well into the next century.

Predictably, the treaty contains several suggestions which isolate Britain. It wants the social chapter brought inside the treaty, and the EU to have new powers to direct policy on employment to further job creation. The plans for abolishing immigration controls, harmonising criminal justice legislation and setting up joint police teams are also anathema to Britain. But Mr Major is not the only head of government who has said "no" to the more integrationist proposals.

Despite attempts by the drafters from the Irish presidency to give a lead, and efforts to increase momentum by France and Germany, the most contentious issues for Europe to decide if it is serious about meaningful new integration have been left aside.

The Irish presidency states that it "remains essential to make significant progress on further use of qualified majority voting" in order to ensure that the union does not become "paralysed" after enlargement in the 21st century. But the draft states that the issue is "highly sensitive" and will have to be decided at a "later stage".

"Flexibility", or "enhanced cooperation", as the French put it, would allow groups of states to pool powers where they choose, while others opt out. These proposals are also "too complex and sensitive" for member states to agree on now, the draft says.

Even the detailed proposals on crime fighting and drugs are uncertain. For all the proclamations about pooling powers, member states have done little to take joint action in these fields. As the next months will show, it is not only Britain which jealously guards its power over affairs of justice and policing.