Europe 'needs Maastricht to fend off past'

CHANCELLOR Helmut Kohl issued a grim warning yesterday about the dangers of the spectres of the past returning to haunt Europe, should Germany and its partners turn their backs on the Maastricht treaty.

On the second day of the Christian Democratic Party's congress in Dusseldorf, the Chancellor sought to sweep aside growing worries about European integration with a passionate defence of his ideals. 'I doubt that the evil spirits of the past, under which we in Europe have already suffered more than enough this century, have been banished for ever,' said Mr Kohl.

Nobody should believe, he said, that the ghosts of nationalism in Europe are dead, or that they only exist in the Balkans. 'Already in the east we see the resurgence of nationalism, intolerance and chauvinism. But even the west is not safe from such temptations,' he said. The only answer was to push on forcefully with European integration, which, far from being rendered obsolete by the historic changes in Eastern Europe, was in fact a timely and necessary response to them. In a clear reference to Baroness Thatcher, Mr Kohl said: 'One woman believed that a simple trade area was enough. She wronged herself and her country.'

In recognition of the powerful concerns in Germany about losing the deutschmark and gaining a common European currency, the Chancellor added, in an aside to his written text, that: 'Of course the parliament must discuss currency union before Germany went on to the final phase.' His careful choice of words did nothing, however, to dispel the considerable confusion surrounding the important issue of whether the German parliament has given itself a veto over economic and monetary union.

The Chancellor is said by senior officials to be 'very unhappy' about ministerial assurances during the first reading of the Maastricht treaty earlier this month, that the Bundestag would debate monetary union again in 1996. The Finance Minister, Theo Waigel, said then that parliament would be able to 're-examine' the issue, but strengthened this commitment by pledging that a government would not go against the wishes of parliament. This has been widely interpreted as having given the Bundestag a veto over whether Germany moves forward to a single currency.

Chancellery officials argue that Mr Kohl is adamant that this is not the case. Once ratified, the Maastricht commitments are legally binding, they say. If in 1996 Germany fulfills the conditions for monetary union, then it must go forward to the final stage, the officials say. 'The very strength of the commitment is that it is automatic, an irreversible process. Mr Kohl does not trust his successors,' said one aide.

However, although the legal position appears clear, government officials concede that 'political complications' would arise if parliament should vote in 1996 against going on to currency union. 'What the government would do then is hard to predict,' said one official, adding that 'this could in some circumstances amount to a de facto veto'. Clearly worried about creating problems before the Maastricht ratification process in Bonn is complete, Chancellor Kohl yesterday took refuge in ambiguity.