`People see a constant transfer of power in one direction only'

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This is edited text from a speech given yesterday by the Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, to the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, in Bonn.

"The question at the centre of the debate in Britain is this: where is Europe going: do we want more integration?

"Political integration is different from economic integration. In fact it may be exactly the opposite. Political integration is about centralisation not decentralisation. People talk about pooling sovereignty, but what they mean - to put it more crudely - is transferring power from democratic national governments to European Union institutions.

"Majority voting, greater powers for the European Parliament, more powers for the Commission. Whatever their merits, these are all proposals for more centralised decision-making, for concentrating power in Brussels...

"Part of what disturbs people in Britain and many elsewhere is that they see a constant transfer of power in one direction only. They see all the footprints leading into the cave, and none of them coming out. So they doubt whether it is wise to go any further inside themselves. Where does it end?

"The conclusion that many draw is that, logically, this process will end in a European state. To quote one British newspaper: `European leaders want one nation, one currency, one flag. Their dream of a federal super- state would be a nightmare for Britain'. Perhaps this view is mistaken, but that is how the process is perceived in Britain. Mistaken or not, that is a political fact...

"People in Britain ask, how does a United States of Europe differ from the proposals made by Germany and others for ever closer integration?

"How far down the road of integration do leaders in Germany and elsewhere think Europe should go? It is no good saying that the convoy must go at the pace of the slowest ship. We are not talking about convoys, we are talking about democracy. The European Union cannot afford to brush aside the deeply-held concerns of its peoples just because they happen to be in a minority.

"Since the Maastricht treaty, the European Union has become, if anything, less popular - this is true in almost every member state. But the agenda for the present Inter-Governmental Conference seems to be on auto-pilot...

"Which way forward for Europe? My answer is that what we need is nations without nationalism, states without statism, and Europe without centralism. The European Union will be the essential framework for those states and those nations, working together in a close but decentralised partnership."