Britain's `opt-out' under attack

CHAnGING face of the Commission: Major's view of enlarged Union, social policy and single currency at odds with key players
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The Independent Online
The new President of the European Commission yesterday said that Britain's opt-out from EU social policy should be abolished, and Europe should move quickly to establish a single currency. Jacques Santer, the man whom John Major chose to succeed J acquesDelors, showed that he will be by no means a soft touch in comparison to his predecessor. Mr Santer was addressing the European Parliament on his plan for the Commission's next five years.

"I am sorry that we were not all able to advance together at Maastricht," said Mr Santer of Britain's social policy opt-out. "I hope that in 1996 unity between all 15 members will be restored and that we will take a new step together towards a social Europe." Later in his speech he said that the arrangement had to be reviewed when EU leaders meet to draw up new rules next year.

Mr Santer said that it was absolutely vital that before new members came in from Central and Eastern Europe, the EU was reformed. "We must take another giant leap forward," he said. "This will require institutional reform." He suggested that in future, the Commission President should be chosen by the European Parliament rather than EU leaders as at present. He proposed increasing the powers of the Parliament over the budget and other legislation. And he called for a greater role for European institutions in foreign policy, traditionally the preserve of member states.

The former prime minister of Luxembourg also committed himself firmly to a single currency for Europe. "Economic and monetary union will, I am sure, come to pass," he said. The time limits in the Maastricht treaty - which underline that there must be a decision on a single currency by the end of the decade - had to be respected.

Mr Santer was chosen after Britain rejected Jean-Luc Dehaene, the Belgian Prime Minister, as too federalist and as a devotee of "big government". Mr Santer was the compromise choice afterwards.

The new President also rejected the continuation of passport checks at borders, another point on which the British government has been insistent. And he advocated changes to the way Europe makes policy on immigration and police matters that would hand more power to the Commission.

Mr Santer had faced potential problems in getting the Parliament to approve his new Commission. When MEPs grilled the commissioners last week they found difficulties with five.

But by a little political sleight of hand and the promise of limited new powers, he appeared to have won his fight and the Parliament is expected to approve the Commission when it votes today.

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