Europe for the people is still Major goal

Click to follow
JOHN MAJOR has written to reassure his European Community colleagues of Britain's unfailing commitment to the Maastricht process, suggesting a framework for next week's Birmingham summit which aims to show a disaffected public what the treaty can do for them, how and why.

The letter was discussed by EC foreign ministers yesterday when they met to begin laying the groundwork for the meeting on 16 October. Its tone, which may irritate the Tory Euro-sceptics, is intended to dispel any lingering doubts about whether Britain really wants to be 'at the heart of Europe'.

There has been much unhappiness at the British presidency's apparent lack of direction since the sterling crisis. The Dutch government yesterday officially denied persistent rumours that it had written a formal letter of complaint.

In his confidential letter, Mr Major expresses his support for a 'citizens' Europe' and highlights his enthusiasm for some Euro- ventures, such as environmental protection, despised by past British governments and a significant minority of the present Tory back bench. 'The Community has been through a rocky patch. I believe that at Birmingham we can give a new and united signal showing both that we have responded to public opinion and how we will bring the Community closer to the lives of our citizens,' he says in the letter.

It is already clear that the Birmingham summit will avoid making anything other than a general declaration of intent. The financial crisis, for example, will not be properly addressed, since finance ministers are not being invited in the interests of market stability.

Heads of government will merely 'reflect on and analyse the turbulence in the currency markets but will not seek to change the system', the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, said yesterday.

Subsidiarity - what the British now term the principle of minimum interference - is initially an exercise in public relations. 'Birmingham will show beyond doubt that it is not just Britain and Denmark and a large minority of French who are anxious about how the community works, but everybody,' said Mr Hurd.

'It is complicated,' he added, 'and we are moving now from general discussion to the procedures by which all institutions will apply the principle, the criteria by which they judge new propositions and specific examples of propositions that should have been held up or scrapped because they didn't meet the subsidiarity test.'

The German Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, said he believed there should be 'concrete guidelines', while the French minister for European affairs, Elisabeth Guigou, talked of the need for pragmatism. 'We must look at the problems case by case,' she said. 'It is very important that we don't block community action and kill all initiative.' She suggested that it was unnecessary to codify procedures: all that was needed was to set down simple rules. 'Everyone involved in EC decision-making must realise it is not enough to act, it is now every bit as important to explain a decision as to apply it.'

Mr Major suggested that the Birmingham summit should open with a television press conference at which each member state would briefly explain its position. The idea seems to have had a lukewarm reception.

The French Foreign Minister, Roland Dumas, would like ministers to be more involved in EC decision-making and he proposed that the council of ministers be based semi-permanently in Brussels.

The smaller countries, especially Spain, fear that subsidiarity, once applied, would limit the powers of the EC Commission, which they regard as the only guarantee that their voice is properly heard. As the Irish Minister for European Affairs, Tom Kitt, put it: 'We would be concerned at any effort to tie the hands of the EC Commission, or to hamper the development of EC policies provided for in the Maastricht treaty. The EC Commission's role in initiating proposals is vital.'