Delors hits at UK's free-market fixation

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The Independent Online
JACQUES DELORS yesterday attacked British fixation with free markets and asked EU governments to back a multi-billion pound jobs package at the Corfu summit that starts on Friday. In comments to journalists, the Commission President laid out his political philosophy before the EU summit - with one eye on his possible candidacy in next year's French Presidential election.

There could be a clash in Corfu, with Mr Delors pressing for EU action to aid Europe's economy while John Major counters with calls for cuts in EU regulation. He made pointed references to the British Chancellor's virulent opposition to the Brussels plan to increase borrowing to help fund an ambitious pounds 56bn public-private programme of transport, energy and telecommunications links. Mr Delors said: 'It's only two or three finance ministers who are resisting this idea. This is pure neo-liberal ideology. I can't understand this attitude towards these large projects and I hope that the heads of state and government will show good sense. Would we have built our railways in the 19th century or nuclear power stations in the 20th if we had insisted that they were profitable in the first year?'

Mr Delors is all but certain to be the Socialist candidate in next year's French presidential election now that Michel Rocard has resigned. His remarks seemed aimed partly at outlining a programme that is distinctively Socialist in its commitment to public spending and the role of the state.

Jacques Chirac, a likely candidate for the right, on Monday attacked European centralisation, again as part of what seems to be the beginning of the presidential race. Though Mr Delors has said he will not make any comments before he leaves office in January, he was at pains to restate his credentials yesterday, proclaiming himself for 'liberty, responsibility and solidarity', the hallmarks of his Christian Socialism

Mr Delors's personal philosophy is very much in tune with new ideas on the left - and some areas of the right - in Britain: it is directed at communities, at economic solutions that match the state and the market, and at helping people to help themselves. 'I don't think the state can simply be removed from the economy.' His ideal was 'a society full of responsible men and women who show solidarity to those who can't keep up'. Social protection for workers had to be maintained, he added.

Mr Delors was clearly positioning himself for a fight at Corfu over ambitious EU plans to relaunch the economy. In a White Paper drawn up last year, the Commission set out schemes to create a new telecommunications, energy and transport infrastructure. The Commission wants greater EU borrowing and spending to fund these, something which Britain, Germany and the Netherlands have resisted. There are 11 projects that should be approved at Corfu, and the Commission believes up to pounds 6bn a year extra borrowing is required to fund them.

The European Trades Union Confederation has also launched an appeal to the summit to reject free-market views and to target jobs rather than inflation. 'The summit must, if the leaders are really concerned about unemployment, give a strong signal to finance ministers to use their room for manouevre,' said Emilio Gabaglio, the ETUC general secretary.