Delors restates faith in road to federalism

Outgoing Commission President reviews decade of successes and failures for EU, `irreversibly' on way to single currency
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The Independent Online
An era came to an end in Europe yesterday. Jacques Delors made his final appearance before the European Parliament, bowing out after 10 years in which he represented everything that integrationists hoped for, and Euro-sceptics feared.

The outgoing President of the European Commission called for a federal Europe, for a single currency, and for a common defence. But Mr Delors' final speech was subdued, even conservative, by the standards of the fiery rhetoric of the last decade. While progress towards European integration had been great over the last decade, he admitted that it was "not as much as I would have liked". He added: "We face an uncertain future, despite what we have achieved.''

"I want to restate my faith," said Mr Delors, addressing a packed chamber. He defined his credo neatly: "Competition which stimulates us, co-operation which strengthens us and solidarity which unites us."

He said that Europe was on an "irreversible" path to a single currency. He said the single currency was essential, "because of its own virtues, but also because it cannot exist without the counterpart of a European government."

Europe had to keep to a federal path, he said. "Only the federal approach guarantees the defence of national personalities, and regional diversity."

But the view he outlined of the future of Europe was much less ambitious than that which he has sketched in previous fiery speeches. "My slogan is: a federation of nation-states," he said.

"Today, a great European, a great Commission President, is leaving," said Klaus Hansch, President of the Parliament, after a lengthy encomium.

Ten years have transformed the European Union out of recognition. When Mr Delors took office the Single European Act had yet to be born. The idea of a single currency was nothing but a gleam in the eye of a few bankers; the project of European political union was just an aspiration. Indeed, the prevailing atmosphere was still that of economic failure and political effacement. As Mr Delors noted (not immodestly): "In the 1980s ... we were still in the grip of Eurosclerosis, but when I arrived the sky beganto clear."

Yet ironically for a man identified by the British right with the worst excesses of Commission illiberalism, he claimed that the Commission's greatest success during his tenure of office had been to reform the Common Agricultural Policy in 1992. "This reform had become indispensable," he said.

Mr Delors has been a symbol for those who wanted a federal Europe, but also for those who fought it tooth and nail. He has been at the heart of British politics at a time when Europe has been the central issue. In Britain, the Iron Lady has gone, and hersuccessor still struggles with the divisions in the party she bequeathed him. The Labour Party, once implacably opposed to the European project, is now in favour, largely persuaded by Mr Delors' speech to the TUC conference in 1988 in Bournemouth.

His period in office has been marked by failures as well as successes. Mr Delors famously said that the EU would be responsible for 80 per cent of social and economic legislation in Europe; but that has not come to pass. Public support for European integration has fallen across the member states in the last four years. France only narrowly approved the Maastricht treaty in a referendum in 1992. Mr Delors has himself publicly complained in the last year about the lack of "family spirit"; decisions a re increasingly subject to national "hostage-taking".

He leaves the Commission at a time when Europe faces some of the largest questions of the last 50 years. The single most important event during his tenure of office had been, he said, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the changes that had made to Europe, including German unification, the end of the Soviet Union and the return of democracy to Central and Eastern Europe. Europe had to think again about itself, he said.

But the unshakeable faith of the Commission President in European integration remains, it was clear yesterday, even if the formulations have changed. Mr Delors echoed the words of President Francois Mitterrand, who took his leave of the European Parliament on Wednesday. "Nationalism means war," he said. "Europe needs to be powerful. It must be powerful if it is to be generous," he said.

Now that he has counted himself out from the French presidential race, Mr Delors leaves without a political career in sight. He continues to serve on several committees of the great and the good, but these are unlikely to absorb his energy - what there is left of it. In an interview with the Independent last year he admitted to being exhausted beyond the point of total fatigue, and eager for a rest.

The transition to Jacques Santer will happen next week, when first the Council of Ministers and then the European Court of Justice anoint the new Commission President.

Mr Santer has already annoyed the Euro-sceptics in Britain by his profession of support for a single currency and a federal Europe.

But he is clearly cut from a different mould from Mr Delors, who as President was passionate, intellectual and activist, whereas Mr Santer promises to be technocratic, managerial and more reactive.