Delors ready to fight over unemployment: EC leader attacks Tory isolation - Labour amendment crisis for Major

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The Independent Online
STRASBOURG - Jacques Delors yesterday called for urgent action to protect the rights of European workers, and attacked states which chose to 'go it alone' on economic policy. The speech by the President of the Commission to the European Parliament emphasised that employment is becoming the main battlefield in European politics, and the Commission is on the defensive.

Mr Delors said it was vital to restore the EC's credibility. An important part of this would be to combat joblessness, now running at 10 per cent. Job losses are increasing political dissatisfaction in France and Britain, which is having a knock-on effect on the prospects for European integration. The Labour Party is threatening to vote against the Maastricht treaty while Britain is excluded from plans for new European labour legislation. France's ruling Socialists face election defeat by the right, which includes anti-EC elements, as unemployment rises.

'Unemployment is threatening the fabric of our society,' said Mr Delors. 'The people of Europe are asking: are you capable of coming up with an economic and social programme that will stem the tide of unemployment and give us confidence in the future?'

Another key element in restoring confidence would be reinforcing the 'social dimension' of EC action, which encompasses labour relations and employment rights. Mr Delors said the Commission would fight to push through Social Charter provisions, particularly on informing and consulting workers.

It is a directive Britain opposes. Picking up on the row caused by Hoover's decision to move some production from France to the United Kingdom, Mr Delors, a former French minister, emphasised that workers had a right to be informed as to the future. 'Recent events have highlighted the confusion and irritation of workers who have had to endure painful decisions without receiving any information . . . about the problems and plans of companies, without being given any opportunity to express their views.'

In defending the social ideal, Mr Delors' words again set him sharply at odds with Conservative policy towards the EC, under which Britain has opted out of future plans for social policy.

Mr Delors also attacked EC states which had 'renationalised' economic policy, an implicit criticism of Britain's decision to leave the exchange rate mechanism of the European Monetary System last year: 'Competitive devaluation is not the solution to the problems facing us today.'

Mr Delors made clear that new member states would not be able to choose to opt out of aspects of the Maastricht treaty. Even the British and Danish opt-outs could come to an end. 'The 10 are hoping that, in time, all the member states will be able to accept the union treaty, with all of its objectives and attendant obligations.'

But he couched his statements in veiled language. Since the Danish referendum defeat, the Commission has been under orders to prevent clashes with members. Indeed, he came under criticism from MEPs for the cautiousness of the Commission's work programme and its low-key approach. Mr Delors was trying to rally support from traditional pro-EC sources, including the European Socialist party and trade unions. But it was from Socialist MEPs that some of the strongest attacks came, accusing the Commission of neglecting its responsibilities.

The President sought to persuade the parliament of the need to avoid conflict with member states. Only after the treaty had been ratified could the Commission get Europe 'back on track'.

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