Delors calls for unity over social policy

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JACQUES DELORS yesterday made an impassioned plea for Europe to set aside its differences over social policy and work together for the benefit of all .

'We have got to get away from this battle between those who do not want to change anything in the name of tradition and those who want to do away with 150 years of social progress. Isn't there a more democratic response? Isn't intellectual and political pluralism possible?' he asked.

The President of the European Commission was the main speaker at a seminar on how to manage social change. With the European elections only two weeks away, he was careful not to criticise individual member states. His vision of society, informed by his Catholic /Socialist background, is still firmly at odds with Conservative policy.

He appealed for a new consensus and a reappraisal of the social values underpinning society, arguing that it was unfair to blame all Europe's problems on an ambitious and costly welfare system.

'Don't throw the baby out with the bath water,' he warned, suggesting that Europe must pull together if it is to meet the real challenge of the next few years: adapting social conditions and expectations to technological change.

He said society was faced with the break-up of the traditional family, an ageing population and a growing sense of loneliness. He called for a society where everyone would have minimum rights, 'irrespective of whether they were working or non-working'. He warned: 'Racism and prejudice does not hit only Yugoslavia but all Europe and we must stop it now.'

Although Mr Delors acknowledged that his vision amounted to a 'democratic utopia', his concern goes beyond the controversial issue of a minimum wage to the process of social integration. 'We must fight apathy and the passive role of the citizen - the idea that if they sit by and wait, they will receive from Lady Bountiful,' he said and suggested that collective bargaining had a vital role to play. 'The employers often offer a short-sighted view of this, without realising that they are undermining industrial relations without with we cannot have a balanced society,' he said.