French Referendum: Cracks appear in the pillars: Problems of 'closer union'

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The Independent Online
THE 250-page treaty agreed by the 12 members of the European Community in Maastricht last December was the most radical and detailed move towards European union since the Treaty of Rome was first signed in 1957.

The treaty consists of three 'pillars': economic and monetary union, a common foreign and security policy, and co-operation on police and judicial matters. If any of these collapsed, it was said, the 'pediment' - the preamble, establishing a new European union, could not stay aloft. Each one of the pillars, however, as well as the pediment, has cracks in it.

The preamble drafted by the Dutch government originally referred to a union 'with a federal goal', but this was too much for Britain, which did not see federalism as a necessary or logical extension of the single market - the abolition of barriers to the free movement of goods, services and people - which is supposed to be in place by the end of this year. The pediment was amended to delete the word 'federal' and substitute a vaguer commitment to 'ever closer union'.

The first pillar is the existing European Community treaty, expanded and amended. It gives the EC a new or greater role in subjects such as the environment, education, consumer protection, public health and pan-European networks (roads, computer links, power links and communications). At its heart are the provisions for economic and monetary union (EMU), leading to a European central bank and a single currency by 1999 at the latest.

Britain reserved the right to opt out of the final stage and Denmark, which has already rejected the Maastricht treaty once, would have to hold a second referendum specifically on monetary union. Last week's crisis in the European exchange rate mechanism (ERM) further emphasised the immense difficulty of moving towards common economic policies, let alone a single currency.

This pillar crystallised the suspicions of Margaret Thatcher, when she was Prime Minister, that Britain was about to surrender an unacceptable degree of sovereignty to bureaucrats in Brussels and politicians from other EC states, who would be able to impose their socialist ideas in Britain through majority voting. Mrs Thatcher demanded the right to opt out of decisions on social affairs. John Major, her successor, had this written in at Maastricht.

The second pillar is the common foreign and security policy. The treaty seeks to improve on existing foreign policy co-operation by setting rules for joint action. Most decisions will be unanimous, including agreement that some on implementing policy may be by a majority vote.

A future common European defence policy must be compatible with Nato. The Western European Union, whose nine members are all in the EC, will be the basis of the community's defence arm, if members vote in 1996 to go ahead. But there are already disagreements about how far this co-operation should go.

The final pillar covers co-operation on matters ranging from immigration and asylum policy to the fight against organised crime and drugs trafficking. It includes Europol, the embryo police intelligence agency. Germany and other 'federalists' wanted this pillar and the second merged into a single EC treaty rather than left to inter-governmental co-operation. They settled for the three- pillar arrangement in exchange for including provisions in the treaty to allow a gradual integration of these subjects into Community procedures.

If the structure were not shaky enough, two dozen protocols and declarations have been annexed to the treaty to accommodate national sensitivities on everything from Ireland's neutrality and constitutional ban on abortion to Denmark's refusal to allow foreigners (mainly Germans) to buy holiday homes on its soil.