In a paper entitled 'Reflections on European Policy', the Christian Democrat party (CDU) of Chancellor Helmut Kohl presented to the German Bundestag its route-map for European development to the end of the century.
At the heart of the document is the contention that the European Union must become more flexible if it is to survive; in particular the EU must allow member states to proceed at their own speed. But the CDU - the principal German ruling party - says this should be seen as a more gradual means of achieving unity; not an abandonment of federal ambitions.
None the less, this assertion will cheer Britain, which has argued that the rules of Union membership should be made less rigid. The document also endorses the principle of subsidiarity: the doctrine, theoretically beloved of Britain, that policy should be made at the lowest tier of government.
Other passages of the CDU proposals - suggesting a re-examination of the national veto, the strengthening of the European Parliament and greater openness in EU proceedings - will be less welcome in London.
Germany was once committed to the concept of a Europe where all moved forward towards a common goal at once. The CDU has realised that if the Union is to open to the former Warsaw Pact countries (a key German ambition) it will have to change. France, too has embraced the notion of a multi-track Europe. In a speech earlier this week the Prime Minister, Edouard Balladur, argued in favour of a 'Europe of concentric circles'.
Yet while the British government believes such flexibility should be made a permanent feature of future European development, the CDU paper stresses it is a temporary solution to an immediate problem.
'We are at a critical juncture. The Maastricht goal of closer integration is in danger of becoming lost as the Union develops into a loose and weak collection of economic interests and different sub- groups,' the paper says. In a key passage it goes on to argue in favour of developing an inner core of countries committed and able to move the Union towards closer integration. The Franco-German alliance is seen as the driving force behind this movement which will pull others in its wake.
'The creation of this inner core is not a goal in itself but a means to an end, the end being the transition to a wider but deeper Union. Membership (of the inner core) will be open to anyone able and willing to join,' the paper said.
Although the blueprint is not an official declaration of government policy, the CDU is the principal party in the ruling coalition and looks set to retain that role after the general election on 16 October.
Its formal contribution is particularly significant because all EU member-states are pledged in 1996 to review the Maastricht Treaty that established the goal of closer Union - including a single currency.
While Germany's recognition of the need for flexibility may be music to British ears, other observations sound a discordant note and suggest that the battle ahead will be hard-fought; there is still no model of European integration on which all can agree.
For example, the CDU paper re- iterates a commitment to develop the power of the European parliament (an institution the British government distrusts) and to make the decision-making process more transparent (not a British priority).
The paper also stresses the need to reconsider the scope of the national veto - a version of which John Major used in Corfu to block the appointment of Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene as successor to Jacques Delors. Perhaps even more controversially, the German proposal calls for recasting of the voting arrangements in the Council of Ministers - a system of qualified majority rule which allocates votes to member states according to their size.
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