France's advocate of the 'no' urges UK to be positive: Major will end up in the doghouse if London seeks only short-term solutions in Europe, Philippe Seguin tells Julian Nundy

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN should resist the temptation to seek narrow national advantage from current turmoil in the European Community, Philippe Seguin, the main French campaigner against the Maastricht treaty, said yesterday.

Speaking to the Independent, he said Britain, the current EC president, had a 'historic' opportunity to influence European union. John Major is due in Paris today for talks with President Francois Mitterrand to prepare the emergency European Community summit on 16 October in Birmingham.

Mr Seguin said Britain should overcome its 'traditional' tendency to seek short-term solutions for itself. Instead, it should 'take in hand as quickly as possible all the criticisms that have been expressed about the way European construction is being carried out'. Mr Seguin, who led the Gaullist campaign against ratification of the Maastricht treaty, said he did not regard traditional British reluctance on European issues as a plus: Britain in Europe and Mr Major himself were 'at a crossroads'.

The country had two choices: one would be to use 'the fuzziness, complexity and the incomprehensible character of the current situation to fashion a made-to-measure cocoon on the European loom'. But this would be 'a dead end, because in five years, 10 years or 15 years, he (Mr Major) would have to get back in the kennel, like a little dog'. If Britain continued along such lines, said Mr Seguin, 'it will make the rest of Europe lose and will itself lose. It will get a bit of a breather, get through an election or two but will end up imprisoned in the system.'

The other solution was to overcome 'egocentrism and not to seek specific solutions for the English and, on the way, for the Danes' but to deal with the 'trilogy of European construction and a treaty, juridically smitten by the Danes, economically smitten by the monetary storm and politically smitten' by the nearly 49 per cent French 'no' vote. 'It's a situation which will not recur.

'England, it seems to me, has a historic role to play in Europe. And the choice is between this historic role and profiting from circumstances by gaining time and saying . . . like Madame du Barry 'just one moment more, Mr Executioner'.'

This past summer, Mr Seguin has made an impressive breakthrough to the centre of the French political stage, becoming identified as the chief anti-treaty politician. But in the short term, Mr Seguin, who was Social Affairs Minister in the 1986-88 'cohabitation' cabinet when a conservative government served under the Socialist president, faces a difficult future in a party where he is at public loggerheads with his official leaders. Although two-thirds of supporters of the Gaullist RPR party declared themselves opposed to ratifying the Maastricht treaty, Jacques Chirac, the party president and his main deputies, campaigned for a 'yes' vote.

Mr Seguin regretted that Mr Chirac had not used the Maastricht debate to strike a Gaullist difference: 'We are forced to do it in his place, by staying inside the RPR and working beyond the RPR. But we'll do it, certainly less well than he would have done himself.' Mr Seguin ruled out any split within the party, adding: 'We want to enlarge it. It would be absurd to start by breaking it.'