Paris hatches EU challenge for Major

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The Independent Online
France is preparing to call John Major's bluff on his threat to veto further moves towards a federal Europe. Influential politicians in Paris are pushing forward plans for a hardcore political union, which would exclude Britain if necessary.

Senior French sources said yesterday that there was nothing in any European treaty to stop a small group of states proceeding with tighter integration on their own. A long article in yesterday's Le Figaro by the former French president, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, says that in the absence of progress within the existing European Union, new methods of integration must be found. Today, he will call for a new European political union with an explicitly federal aim.

In 1996, EU leaders meet to revise the Maastricht Treaty. The Prime Minister has said that he would veto any significant moves to further integration, in particular changes to the way the EU makes decisions. But the French ideas would effectively pre-empt that by establishing a new body of which Britain would not be a member. France currently holds the chairmanship of the European Union and will prepare the ground for reform over the next six months.

The French sources said that France rejected the idea that everybody could proceed at their own pace in Europe. There was a case, they argued, for the main European nations which are committed to integration to proceed together. In particular, France andGermany needed to cement their commitments to a federal Europe, they said. There are already a number of areas where the two countries pursue their own co-operation with other countries joining in where they feel able.

Integration on this model would be outside the framework of the Maastricht Treaty and the Treaty of Rome and Britain would not be able to veto it. But it might involve a number a sensitive areas - intelligence sharing, military co-operation, foreign policy and economic policy, for instance - where Britain would be loath to be excluded. It would face Britain with the choice of remaining in the slow lane in Europe, or moving ahead with its European allies and risking a backbench rebellion.

Other French sources said that they believed there was still a possibility that next year could see a decision to move ahead with a single currency. Mr Major has threatened to veto this as well, but the Maastricht Treaty makes it impossible for Britain to object if other nations decide to proceed.

In an article covering three pages of yesterday's Le Figaro, Mr Giscard warns that the existing framework for European integration is failing. "The project of European integration proposed after the last war by the founding fathers of Europe cannot be realised in the manner in which they conceived it," he says. The extension of membership to east and central Europe is a foregone conclusion, adds Mr Giscard but this would make the idea of a federal Europe impossible.

British objections to European federalism have also damaged the project, the former French president says. The entry of Britain into the European institutions was "at the cost of a persistent ambiguity over the ultimate objective".

Mr Giscard will outline further practical steps in a second article today proposing a new European political union. His ideas are similar to those of both Alain Lamassoure, France's Minister for Europe, and Germany's ruling Christian Democrats, who have suggested that states wanting integration should push ahead on their own. They suggest France is likely to choose a tighter core group of European states in 1996.

Mr Giscard is not in the French government but his party - the EUF - is part of the ruling coalition and his views are influential. The next French president is likely to be prime minister Edouard Balladur, a member of the Gaullist RPR party. Mr Balladuris on the pro-European wing of the RPR and is likely to keep France on the path of European co-operation that President Francois Mitterrand has followed. Mr Balladur's supporters have also discussed in private plans to form a single French conservative group from the pro-European factions of the RPR and UDF.

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