Birmingham Summit: A respite from the real world: Looking on the bright side

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The Independent Online
YESTERDAY'S special summit was to the EC what Christmas will be to most families: 24 hours in which to forget the outside world, eat, be happy and stop arguing with your mother.

John Major began the proceedings with a declaration to his EC colleagues that, after the unprecedented political and monetary turmoil of the past few weeks, it was important to calm public nerves and 'show that we are all committed to the creation of a Community with 12 member states. A Community that brings peace, liberty and prosperity to all peoples.'

Within these somewhat limited objectives the summit may be deemed a success. For the first time since the French referendum narrowly returned a 'yes' vote, heads of government met as 12 and showed themselves publicly united in their commitment to a 12-strong European Community and ratification of a non-negotiable Maastricht treaty. Such firmness of purpose is what the member states were looking for to ease the process of ratification, particularly in Denmark and Britain.

Debate on potentially divisive topics, a Gatt deal or reform of the exchange rate mechanism, was limited. Finance ministers will look again on Monday at the financial aspects, while on Gatt a British official said that the summit's main concern had been 'to ensure no new problems would result in anyone being able to stop or damage the negotiations which take place in Canada this weekend'. France, widely pilloried this week for blocking a deal, came under no special pressure.

Even the debate on subsidiarity, or decentralisation, produced just a broad declaration of principles, such as the need to publish more consultative or green papers ahead of legislation, to open some Council business, improve public access to Community decisions and make the legislation simpler.

All member-state delegations pronounced themselves generally happy with the summit's outcome. Lunch was washed down with an English wine and there was a small present for Yugoslavia.

Chancellor Kohl had a Thursday night dinner with Mr Major, proving that Anglo-German disagreement was 'history', and was at pains the next day to denounce any notion of a two-speed Europe.

Outside the conference centre the real world is less warm and comfortable. Giuliano Amato faces unprecedented social unrest as a result of his government's tough economic programme. Spain is still grappling with the effects of devaluation. Germany balks at monetary union. The French franc is again looking shaky. The Danish problem has still been barely addressed. It was a mark of the summit's surrealism that when a reporter complained to the Danish Prime Minister, Poul Schluter, that there wasn't a sausage of news, Mr Schluter produced an apple from his pocket.

Mr Major came under the fiercest spotlight. He was badly heckled as he came to the conference by onlookers shouting 'What about the majors, Mr Minor?'

But the European ship sails on and will probably make port eventually. However, the mast is broken, the sails badly holed and many of the crew demoralised. The man currently at the helm seems to have no previous experience of sailing in foreign waters, and the other officers can comfort themselves only with the hope that the worst of the storm is over.

(Photograph omitted)