The president of the European Commission, speaking the day after the Maastricht treaty overcame its last obstacle to ratification, said a 'new era' had opened. But he offered few concrete proposals, made few references to federalism and seemed intent instead on galvanising a debate on the social and economic foundations of Europe.
'We're moving up a gear in the construction of the EC,' Mr Delors told the European Parliament. He called for 'a Europe that is not marginalised on the sidelines' and said that heads of state would have to find a way to revive the European economy when they meet in Brussels on 29 October. 'European economies can find a way towards growth again,' he said.
Much of his speech was taken up with plans for a white paper to be presented at a summit in December. He called for better use of 'human capital', more training, investment in research and technology and job sharing. 'The people who have jobs are being selfish,' he said. 'That will have to change if there are not to be 30 million unemployed by the end of the century.'
But he was careful to accentuate the role of member states, rather than the Commission itself.
There were few details in his speech, partly because plans are at an early stage, partly because the appetite for grand plans seems to have evaporated in the EC. Mr Delors tenaciously defended the social market economy, the European model of development which ties social protection together with free markets. 'It has made it possible for us to have solidarity and competition together,' he said, adding that the 'model is not to be condemned but it needs to be reformed'.
The Commission President's speech emphasised that many of the key EC battlefields over the next few months would concern economic and social matters, with growth slowing, unemployment mounting and protectionist pressures increasing.
Britain is accused by some of its European partners of wanting to remove social systems and replace them with deregulated labour markets where workers have little protection. Though there is more interest now in British-style deregulation, few would go as far as Mrs Thatcher, or even Mr Major.
When employment ministers met in Luxembourg on Monday, Britain was all but isolated. On one directive - concerning the protection of young workers and children - Britain was given a four-year exemption; and on another, concerning workers councils, it opted out completely. The other 11 member states will now proceed under the social protocol of the Maastricht treaty, from which Britain has an opt-out.
Yesterday diplomats from other EC states reacted angrily to a claim from David Hunt, the Employment Secretary, that Britain's exclusion from the directive on workers councils would attract investment. 'It was not a very helpful statement,' said a senior diplomat.
The EC is also facing a potential crisis over trade if the Uruguay round of negotiations on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade collapses. But the old battlefields of the EC - over federalism, a single currency and political integration - are strangely silent, even though the European Union is about to come into existence. Diplomats in Brussels say a single currency in 1997 is almost impossible, though they still hold out the prospect in 1999, with a smaller club.
Plans to deepen integration have also been put on the back-burner. In 1996 the EC is due to hold a conference to discuss further steps on the road to a federal union, but diplomats increasingly accept that this, too, is unlikely.
Mr Delors made little reference yesterday to the new realities of Maastricht. But in the coming months the EC will start to put into operation the second stage of economic and monetary union, which begins officially next year. It will also try to kickstart its common foreign and security policy.
But increasingly deliberations in Brussels are affected by two imminent political events. The European elections next year that are likely to see a remaking of the political landscape in the Parliament. Next year the Commission is to disappear and a new president will be chosen to replace Mr Delors.Reuse content