Kohl exhorts the 12 to press on with union: Chancellor champions Maastricht

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IN A passionate exhortation to Germany and its European Community partners to push ahead with union, Chancellor Helmut Kohl said yesterday that Europe faces a decisive test. 'If we do not now, altogether, grasp the chance that the Maastricht treaty offers, then the Community will be cast backwards by many years,' he warned in an address to the Bonn parliament.

It is not a time for doubt and hesitation but for decisive action, said Mr Kohl, adding that the treaty must be ratified by the EC states and come into force in January next year.

Suggestions that, behind this public front in favour of Maastricht, the Bonn government is making contingency preparations for a mini Europe of core countries, were further strengthened yesterday by reported statements of the German Finance Minister, Theo Waigel. In a discussion with members of his Christian Social Union party, Mr Waigel is reported to have said that because of very different economic circumstances, members of the Community will have to integrate at different speeds. There is increasing worry in Bonn that Britain will fail to ratify Maastricht - making it necessary for Germany, France and the Benelux countries to press ahead with union.

In his speech, the Chancellor made a special point of defending the French franc against speculation, ruling out the possibility of a realignment. 'The tensions in the European Monetary System are no reason to put the system into question,' he said. The EMS has been part of the foundation of the Community of the last decade and is 'the very basis for our next goal, monetary union'. Tackling the worries of people in Germany and elsewhere about European union, Mr Kohl said that slowing down would be fatal. 'We have already experienced, with German unification, to what extent events can depend on decisively grasping an opportunity. It is the same today with Europe. To pause would be the wrong answer. To stand still would be to fall backwards. That is why, with our partners we must step courageously forward.'

In a remark which could well have been directed at the British, Mr Kohl warned: 'No one in Europe, and I repeat no one, should delude himself that he can alone secure economic stability and prosperity. E' The leader of the opposition Social Democrats, Bjorn EngholmTHER write error, in an equally passionate defence of Maastricht, appealed to the British Government not to misuse the narrow 'yes' vote in the French referendum to turn the EC back into a free-trade area. 'The only correct response to the crisis in eastern Europe is to defend Europe against nationalism. No to Maastricht will not just mean stagnation but risk the destruction of the EC and collapse into selfish competition between states.'

The Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, begins ratifying the treaty on 8 October. While Mr Kohl is confident of the treaty's safe passage through the lower and upper houses, he is aware that he faces a hard battle in winning back support for Europe from an increasingly sceptical German population. The latest opinion poll shows just 22 per cent supporting monetary union (72 per cent want to keep the mark) and only 32 per cent for political union.

Trying to reassure those worried about losing their national identity, Mr Kohl said: 'With Maastricht we have not laid the foundation stone of some (super state) which dominates everything, but have committed ourselves to a Europe based on the principle of unity and diversity.'

The centralising forces of the Brussels bureaucracy must be curbed said the Chancellor. 'We must get away from the tendency to do everything at the European level.' He wants the special European summit next month to deliver 'an interpretive declaration on Maastricht' which would emphasise a more 'citizen-friendly' union.

Ending his speech, Mr Kohl said: 'Germany is our Fatherland, Europe our future.'