Europhobes pushed to the wings: Opponents of the Maastricht treaty find themselves excluded from government

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The Independent Online
FOR all the powerful anti-European undercurrents in the newly elected French National Assembly, the government named by the Prime Minister, Edouard Balladur, is one that is four-square behind the process of 'building Europe', as the French call it, or European integration.

Those who would just as soon have British Eurosceptics wreck the Maastricht treaty or Danish voters reject it for a second time have been all but excluded from the new government, to the relief of France's partners.

Mr Balladur has instead packed the new regime with some of the most pro-Maastricht voices in French political life. This is partly to avoid a confrontation with President Francois Mitterrand, who made it clear that he would not tolerate any interference with the course he has set for France on Europe. On Monday night he said he would use his presidential prerogatives to guarantee the 'continuity' of French foreign policy when it comes to Europe and 'the progressive unity of our continent'.

Playing the key co-ordinating role on Europe will be Alain Lamassoure, 49, a UDF deputy for the Basque country, who was named minister for European Affairs attached to the Foreign Ministry. Mr Lamassoure, an expert on the problems of Eastern Europe, was one of the most active pro- Maastricht campaigners last summer.

Mr Balladur's decision should guarantee peace on the European front at least until the presidential elections in 1995 and give the new administration a breathing space in which to tackle French unemployment and get the economy going again. If the policy fails and France slides deeper into recession, with the franc coming under attack from currency speculators waiting like vultures in the wings, the fault-lines which have been papered over since the narrow victory in the Maastricht referendum last September can be expected to open up again.

In the meantime, the anti-Maastricht camp in the RPR Gaullist party is staying on the sidelines, with only one of its members, Charles Pasqua, joining the government, as Interior Minister. He now says that 'the distinction between pro- and anti-Maastricht is archaic', and that he has no intention of tripping up the government.

As angry as French politicians get towards the 'soulless bureaucrats' of the European Commission and as disenchanted as they are with EC policies which open the economy to outside competition, there is a broad consensus that the country's future is inextricably linked to the Community. The rows tend to be over trying to persuade the EC partners to do things the French - ie protectionist - as opposed to the British or German way.

Despite bellicose statements by Jacques Chirac, the leader of the Gaullist RPR party, that he was prepared to risk a 'European crisis' to defend the interests of French farmers by blocking the Gatt (world trade) and agriculture deals with the United States, nothing now suggests that the Balladur government will follow through with these threats.

Mr Chirac also intends to remain above the fray and is keeping his powder dry for the presidential challenge, possibly against Jacques Delors, who is soon to retire as head of the European Commission.

Mr Balladur is one of the most pro- Maastricht faces on the European political scene; he was one of the first members of the RPR party to come out in favour of the treaty. He is a firm believer in close links with Germany and is determined to keep the exchange rate between the two currencies fixed. 'Without a close relationship between Germany and France, one can no longer talk about Europe. So we must do everything to keep it close,' he told the Figaro newspaper some weeks ago.

The new Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, is a convinced European, as is the Economy Minister, Edmond Alphandery. Mr Alphandery, a member of the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF) party, is a believer in fast-track monetary union who says that the country's economic fundamentals are such that the franc should be even stronger, and that there is no reason for high interest rates in France.

Simone Veil, the most senior member of the UDF in the government, is a former member of the European Parliament and veteran pro-Maastricht voice.

BONN - Mr Balladur will meet the German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, on or after Mr Kohl's return from Easter holidays on 19 April, Reuter reports.

The official said the meeting would take place immediately after Mr Kohl's holidays, but he did not give a date. The French government said earlier that Mr Balladur hoped to go to Germany next week. The Chancellor planned to leave for his traditional Easter holiday in Austria on Wednesday afternoon.