Opposition growing to more EC reforms: Bonn ratification rider may put brake on further change

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The Independent Online
A WAVE of opposition is building up to further reform of the European Community's institutions just as the Maastricht treaty looks set to overcome its last hurdle.

Germany's constitutional court is likely to decide this week that the treaty is consistent with the German constitution. The agreement will then come into force on 1 November.

But the court may attach riders to its judgment saying that further reforms must meet certain tests, to prevent German sovereignty from being compromised and to protect democracy in Europe. This would vastly complicate the task of negotiating a new document, diplomats say.

Despite the difficulties in getting Maastricht ratified, there is still momentum for change in the EC, with French and German governments pushing for reforms to accompany the EC's enlargement to take in new states. But the opposition to this is building rapidly. The smaller states and prospective new members have warned in the last week that reform needs to take a back seat. If the German court issues its own warnings, these will have to be heeded in Bonn.

Willy Claes, the Belgian Foreign Minister, warned against any new moves on Thursday. 'There's a contradiction between, on the one hand, calling for the speeding- up of enlargement negotiations and, on the other hand, wanting to mix up these negotiations with a difficult debate on an in-depth review of the EC's institutions,' he said. Belgium holds the Presidency of the Community.

It was the third such intervention in recent days. The Irish Minister for European Affairs, Tom Kitt, argued against reform and condemned the idea of reducing the power of the EC's small states in a speech on Wednesday. So did the Portugese Prime Minister, Anibal Cavaco Silva, in a speech in Finland. 'It would create fears in the Community like those over Maastricht,' he said.

His words will have fallen on a receptive audience. Finland, which is negotiating entry to the EC, warned about the same thing during a meeting on EC enlargement on Tuesday. Pertti Salolainen, Finland's External Trade Minister, said: 'This is not the right moment for this kind of institutional change.' His views are shared by Sweden, Austria and Norway. Enlargement of the EC may thus signal a deadening of the European appetite for institutional integration.

The problem arises partly because the arrival of three or four new members complicates the decision-making machinery of the 12-strong Community. Some decisions must now be agreed by a 'qualified majority' of states - in other words, several states must vote together to block action. There has been some discussion of raising the threshold of the number of small states required to do this, so that decisions are not continually held hostage.

There have also been suggestions that the number of commissioners be reduced - every state has one, or two in the case of the big countries. And there are other proposals for reducing the privileges given to every member state, on the basis that they will be unworkable with a Community of 16 or more.

For instance, every state takes a six-month turn at the EC Presidency. The presidency state, along with those that hold the position immediately before and after, play a key role in foreign affairs. With a Community made up of smaller states, this could mean EC foreign policy being run by its weakest members at a time of international crisis.

All of the EC's small states reject these arguments, made by France and Germany, and then only in private. Britain is against further radical reform, though it wants the balance between small and large states maintained. Formally the EC is committed to holding off new reforms until 1996. The issue is likely to come to a head at a summit this month to celebrate the coming into force of the Maastricht treaty.

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