Hurd urges France to resist hard-core EU

Click to follow
Douglas Hurd yesterday warned against a "hard-core" Europe that would lock Britain out, pushing instead for a strong alliance between Britain and France. In a landmark speech in Paris, the Foreign Secretary said: "I do not believe that the Europea n Union can succeed without the participation of Britain."

The speech underlines Britain's hope that growing French Euroscepticism will help to restrict moves towards federalism when EU states meet in 1996 to rewrite the Maastricht treaty. Speaking to the Institut Francais des Relations Internationale, Mr Hurd pointed to similarities between French and British ideas on how European integration should proceed. "Neither Britain nor France joined the European Community in order to assist at the withering-away of the nation state," he said.

Mr Hurd emphasised that Britain would reject far-reaching moves towards a federal Europe in 1996. "We do not believe that it is either desirable or necessary to undertake a massive constitutional upheaval."

That view is broadly shared by Edouard Balladur, France's Prime Minister, and the man leading opinion polls in the presidential race. He supports the idea of "flexibility", similar to Britain's multi-track proposals that would allow states to choose in which aspects of European integration they wished to participate. For example, a country could be at the forefront of integration in security policy, but decline to join a single European currency. "We believe that flexibility of this kind is inherent in the task of creating a European Union which does not take the United States of America as its model," Mr Hurd said.

However, the French government is being pressed by Bonn and pro-European politicians in France to join a small group of the original Common Market members in a tighter, more monolithic, political union, without Britain if necessary. The idea of a "hard core" Europe has been put forward - in different ways - by the German Christian Democrats, the former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, France's Europe Minister, Alain Lamassoure, and others.

Last night, Mr Hurd said Britain rejected any attempt by France and Germany to work out a recipe for 1996, presenting other states with a fait accompli. "During a similar period before the Maastricht negotiations, the agenda was overwhelmingly set by theviews of the French and German governments," he warned.

Mr Hurd's speech laid out the most comprehensive approach yet to constructing a London-Paris axis in preparation for next year's intergovernmental conference. France holds the chairmanship of the European Union for the next six months, and will set up some of the machinery for the IGC.

Britain has built up co-operation with Paris at a practical level, especially in military and security matters. Last year the two launched a joint air command and the countries' intelligence organisations spend more and more time with each other.

London hopes this practical friendship will pave the way for a political alliance in the 1996 negotiations which would block German ideas for progress by a small group of countries towards a more fully-fledged European federation. Mr Balladur's public p r onouncements have been close to the British line. But members of his centre-right coalition and Mr Giscard prefer the German path. Writing in Le Figaro this week, Mr Giscard suggests present European institutions have reached the end of their usefulness as a means of attaining closer political integration. Countries ready to go ahead should set up some sort of new political union, based on willingness to achieve a single currency. France should welcome the suggestion of German Christian Democrats to for m a "hard-core" Europe, which should re-cement the Paris-Bonn axis, creating a "federative" body.

This idea - or something close - has support from the more integrationist elements in the French government, such as Mr Lamassoure. He has proposed a "refounding" of the EU. Jacques Chirac, Mayor of Paris, and his more Eurosceptic wing of the RPR, are not in line with those ideas.

British sources insist "none of the people that matter" are ready to be seduced by the German siren call. But as 1996 approaches, the French government will come under increasing pressure to compromise with Germany. Economic and monetary union is at the heart of integration and is a key French priority; without German support, it cannot happen.