French Referendum: Bonn calls for faster union: German reaction

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IN A reaction mixing nervousness and relief in equal measure, Germany yesterday called for the prompt ratification of the Maastricht treaties, while underscoring its opposition to any demands for renegotiation.

Clearly fearing that the narrow French referendum result will boost the campaign of those calling for a reopening of the Maastricht package, German political leaders closed ranks yesterday to head off such demands. 'The task now is speedily to enact the treaties as foreseen,' said Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Germany is holding fast to the agreed formula on monetary union, said Theo Waigel, the Finance Minister. Any attempt to review the exacting conditions 'could not be explained to the German people'.

There was general agreement in the German responses that the tiny 'yes' majority in the French vote had dramatically pointed up fears in Europe about centralism and the loss of national identity. 'This tells us that we have to take great care that Europe is understood by the people,' said Klaus Kinkel, the Foreign Minister. 'We shall have to see if we can change one or two things, but without changing the treaty.'

Developing this theme of taking an unchanged Maastricht to the people, Mr Kohl called for 'unity in diversity'. We have to take peoples' concerns seriously, he said, and 'do everything possible that a Maastricht Europe is there for the people'. The Chancellor said that even though the result was close, it would 'give new impetus' to the integration process. 'There is no alternative to a common European policy,' he said.

Mr Kinkel emphasised that the narrowness of the French result was much less important than the positive nature of the signal. 'Europe lives, and that is all that matters,' he said.

The German government is poised to launch a national pro- European campaign. At home, Mr Kohl is waging an uphill struggle against a tide of critical opinion towards Europe, and growing calls from politicians in all parties for a referendum on the Maastricht accords. The latest opinion poll shows a German population evenly divided, with 46 per cent saying they support Maastricht, 41 per cent saying they oppose it, and 13 per cent undecided.

The cause of this dramatic swing in German opinion over the past nine months from a position of overwhelming support for European integration is essentially two-fold: there is a general reaction against anti-European centralism and a specific antipathy to giving up the German mark for a common European currency.

This surge of defensiveness around the mark has made one thing abundantly clear for Mr Kohl - there can be no question of re-negotiating the treaty on economic union. For it is an enormously sensitive issue in Germany, and one where Chancellor Kohl fears he could be at his weakest from attacks by the nationalist right in the run up to the 1994 general election.

Defending the treaties as they are is as much a matter of internal political necessity as European conviction. Should they succumb to the immense strains now apparent in the Community, then Mr Kohl will be seeking to pursue a strategy of integration a la carte, such as in defence and security with France. The central message to be delivered, according to Mr Kohl, is that, if Maastricht dies, then other avenues must be used to reach European union.