Maastricht: UK to demand limit on EC power: European Policy Forum

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN will demand and obtain guarantees from its partners that European Community powers be restricted before it even attempts to ratify the Maastricht treaty, Douglas Hurd signalled last night in a hard-sell speech seen as the Government's policy document on Europe.

Reiterating the Government's mantra-like support for the principle of subsidiarity, or de-centralisation from Brussels, Mr Hurd said: 'We cannot wait for the treaty to be ratified and the article on subsidiarity to have legal effect - although ratification will give it essential underpinning. We need to reshape and restrain now the way in which the Commission and the Council of Ministers operate.' He said the Government had called the EC summit in Birmingham in two weeks' time to give the work on applying subsidiarity in practice 'extra scope and impetus'.

The remarks, in a speech to the European Policy Forum, reflect what is effectively a bargain struck by the Government with its EC partners to get the treaty past Euro-sceptics in Cabinet and in Parliament: that if the other 11 want the treaty put back to parliament next year, they must give John Major what officials call 'a successful Birmingham'.

'We must show our citizens in practice that the Community, so far from smothering national identity, builds on the work of nation states, that national parliaments are crucial to the democratic control of the Community, that we none of us want a bureaucratic, centralised, homogenised Europe,' Mr Hurd declared.

As to the other condition for British ratification - clarification of how the Danes intend to pass the treaty after its rejection by voters last June - Mr Hurd reiterated that: 'We shall not put the Ratification Bill back to the House of Commons until Danish plans are clear.' But he insisted: 'We want to help the Danes, not hide behind them. It is the peoples of Europe, not just the British, not just the Danes, who need to be satisfied about the future course of the Community.'

Adopting a populist tone not usually part of his repertoire, the Foreign Secretary explained that the European 'citizenship' set out in the treaty was no substitute for national citizenship: 'Gazza if he stays there long enough will be qualified to vote for the City Council of Rome (to which he may pay taxes) and Sean Connery may help to choose the MEP for Marbella.' He added as an extra selling point that EC citizens would be entitled to consular protection where their own member- state was not represented.

Asked if all this was likely to persuade sceptics such as Sir Teddy Taylor MP, an aide to Mr Hurd quipped: 'I dare say Sir Teddy sometimes takes himself to the island of Corfu, or even to Frankfurt, to name a place.'

Mr Hurd also banged the drum of patriotism and history to remind his rebel cabinet and parliamentary colleagues of what was at stake. The real argument was not about a one-speed or two-speed Europe, for 'in fact we already have a multi-speed Europe, and no harm done'. The real argument was this: 'For Britain there is a caveat, which goes to the heart of British foreign policy through the centuries. It is against our fundamental interests so to isolate ourselves from the continent of Europe that policies are organised there which crucially influence our security or our prosperity but in which we have no say.'

He adopted a similar tactic on the European Monetary System: 'Those who in the excitement of the moment would turn their back on European monetary co-operation have to weigh the risks of combinations forming on the Continent, perhaps in a year or two rather then now, which would gradually drain the strength away from our financial sector.'

Having summarised in four paragraphs the points of the treaty which were, from the British point of view, either beneficial or uncontroversial, Mr Hurd sought to bring the whole issue down to earth by declaring: 'As applied to Britain, its substance is neither miraculously splendid nor destructive of national identity.'

As Spain opened its parliamentary debate on Maastricht yesterday, a senior official of the country's central bank criticised the Bundesbank's role in the present currency crisis, effectively expressing support for Britain's viewpoint, writes Phil Davison.

Luis Linde, head of the Bank of Spain's international department, said Bundesbank statements made before 'Black Wednesday ' had been decisive in pushing down the lira and the pound.

(Photograph omitted)