Joy and concern greet EC new era

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The Independent Online
LUXEMBOURG - With German ratification now assured, all 12 member states of the European Community are hoping to bring down the curtain on a period of crisis and uncertainty and raise it on a more propitious era, writes Andrew Marshall.

They will hold a summit on 29 October to launch the new European Union created by the Maastricht treaty, it was announced yesterday.

The process began nearly two years ago, when a summit of EC leaders agreed a text after two days of painful negotiation. The end of this drawn-out drama was welcomed with a mixture of jubilation and sober reflection in Brussels, where the past two years have been a painful education.

The Belgian government, which holds the EC presidency, said it would hold a summit on the next moves towards monetary union and a common foreign and security policy, two of the European Union's key objectives. It will also seek to tackle surging unemployment and weakening growth, which threaten to push the creation of a single currency beyond the first target date of 1997.

The judgment of the German constitutional court was welcome in Brussels, but also amounted to a warning. The judges rejected the view that political union would be inimical to German sovereignty, and denied that monetary union was an 'unclear and automatic mechanism'. But, they warned, the court would keep a watchful eye on the development of the EU, and could take action again if Bonn did not make sure that democracy was respected.

The European Union created by Maastricht is a strange beast, looking little like the former Soviet Union or the United States and rather more like a loose confederation. The EC, one component part of the EU, will continue to carry out a broadly socio-economic agenda, including the project of a single currency. Other parts of the union will manage foreign policy and internal affairs.

For supporters of a stronger Community, it is a fatal compromise. The weakness of the EU, the existence of opt-outs on a single currency for Britain and Denmark and on social policy for Britain, worry them too. For opponents of the EC there is plenty of which to beware. The European Parliament intends to make the most of its new powers; the Commission will push as hard as possible to maintain a leading role; and there will be another conference to consider reform in 1996.