Major to reject Franco-German view

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The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR will tomorrow take issue with French and German suggestions for a two-tier European Union with a 'hard core' of five EU states from which Britain would be excluded.

The Prime Minister will use a lecture at Leiden University in Holland to develop his rival vision of a 'multi-faceted and multi- speed' EU in which Britain would take the lead on some issues, like free trade and foreign affairs, but hold back on others.

Downing Street yesterday went out of its way to dismiss any suggestion of 'first and second class citizens of the EU'. It insisted such an idea would be rejected by the majority of member states.

The two-tier proposals have been floated by Edouard Balladur, the French Prime Minister, and policymakers in Chancellor Kohl's Christian Democratic Union as contributions to a debate on modifications to the Maastricht treaty scheduled for 1996.

The ideas have caused alarm among Tory pro- and anti-Europeans alike. Lord Howe, the former Foreign Secretary said on BBC Radio 4 yesterday: 'We cannot and should not accept the idea of there being a hard core, committed to a closer union on some things than everybody else.'

Reactions in other EU countries excluded from the putative inner core have ranged from fury to bemusement. The German government spokesman, Dieter Vogel, insisted yesterday that the proposals were only 'a discussion paper' and 'not a government paper'. He said Mr Kohl had given this assurance by telephone to the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

Earlier, Umberto Bossi, head of one of Italy's ruling coalition parties, significantly raised the temperature. Mr Bossi, the leader of the Northern League, said Europe was falling under the influence of the 'Prussian heel'. In a weekly party bulletin, he said the EU was 'at the mercy of the arrogance of a part of the puffed-up French political classes who pejoratively dismiss the Italians as macaronis'. The German proposal, he said, 'with typical Teutonic arrogance, splits Europe into two camps and puts Italy in the B class.'

The Italian Foreign Minister, Antonio Martino, has also dismissed the Franco-German ideas as an 'an unacceptable proposition which, if it was applied, would end up provoking the break-up of Europe'.

The German discussion paper was presented last week by Wolfgang Schauble, a leading Christian Democrat, and by Karl Lamers, the party's foreign affairs spokesman. It represents an attempt to square the circle of the dispute within Europe over whether the EU should be 'widened' (extended to the east) or 'deepened' (developed along more federal lines). The CDU suggests the EU should do both, with a vanguard of five states - Germany, France and the Benelux countries - proceeding to a deeper union, and other countries catching up when they can.

Leading members of the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) yesterday partially backed the CDU ideas. Oskar Lafontaine, deputy leader of the SPD, said that a 'two- speed Europe is justified', although he also emphasised: 'The CDU should have presented this more clearly, so that other EU members do not get worried.'

From Downing Street's viewpoint, the proposals have had the effect of reawakening the slumbering European argument in the Tory party. Lord Howe said yesterday: 'Mr Major should take the opportunity this week of making clear exactly where Britain does stand and should stand.'

A British official said: 'We certainly don't think that a two-speed Europe is the right way to look at the development of the EU.' To Mr Major's formulation during the European elections - a mult- speed, multi-faceted Europe - British officials are now adding the term 'multi-core'.

In essence, the government will argue that the EU should not be streamed like an old-fashioned school in which pupils are in the top or bottom class for all subjects. Member states should be allowed, according to national policies and imperatives, to be in the top class in some policy areas and less advanced in others.

Andrew Marr, page 13