Experts signal big EU reforms

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The Independent Online
THE European Union needs radical reform to make it more democratic and effective, according to a report by senior advisers to Jacques Delors and Helmut Kohl.

The report released yesterday in Bonn sets out proposals for developing the EU in the direction of a federal state when governments meet in 1996 to revise the Maastricht treaty. It was prepared by a structural commission which included Jerome Vignon and Joachim Bitterlich, advisers respectively to the President of the European Commission and the German Chancellor.

The recommendations include giving the European Parliament parallel powers to those of national representatives in the EU's Council of Ministers, so as to make decision-making more democratic. The Council of Ministers would effectively become the Senate in a two-chamber Congress. At the moment, national ministers always hold the whip hand.

The report proposes that Europe should have its own defence with its own armed forces, a big step further than the Maastricht treaty. And it argues for consolidating the EU treaties into a single constitution.

The 1996 conference is likely to take place around the same time as the next British election, due to be held sometime between now and 1997. John Major is under pressure from sections of his party to reject any sweeping reforms of the EU before then, which prompted his advocacy of a 'multi-track' Europe - but it would be impossible for Britain to opt out of reforms of the decision-making structure without leaving the EU.

Preparations for the 1996 conference will get under way at the EU summit which begins in Corfu this Friday. The report from the Structural Commission is likely to translate into policy sooner rather than later, however. In December, according to sources in Bonn and Brussels, Germany and France are likely to put forward proposals for reform.

Britain is also working on its own proposals for changes to the EU's decision-making, but these go considerably less far than the Franco-German ideas. They centre on reforming the Presidency system, by which different countries run the EU for six months, reducing the number of Commissioners, and shifting power from the Commission to less politicised sections of the EU bureaucracy.

The 1996 conference will be heavily influenced by whoever takes over as Commission President from Jacques Delors. The likelihood is growing that there will be no decision at the EU summit on Mr Delors' successor, because of deadlock between the two main candidates. Jean-Luc Dehaene, the Belgian Prime Minister, and Ruud Lubbers, the Dutch Prime Minister, are both running, but seem to have cancelled each other out in what is becoming a bad- tempered contest.

If there is deadlock at Corfu, Germany will probably announce plans for a summit in September, giving time to sort out a new candidate. The dark horses are multiplying; they now include Peter Sutherland, the Gatt (world trade) chief, Sir Leon Brittan, the EU Commissioner, Etienne Davignon, a former Belgian Commissioner, and Wilfred Martens, a former Belgian Prime Minister.

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