Santer flaunts his federalism

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JACQUES SANTER, president-elect of the European Commission, yesterday swept away any idea that he is less federalist than Jean-Luc Dehaene, the man John Major vetoed for the job.

His comments, to the European Parliament, will revive fears among Conservative Eurosceptics that they have been conned over Mr Santer's appointment. Mr Santer criticised the British veto, said he favoured stronger social legislation, wanted the EU to integrate more before it took in additional members and thought national vetoes should be reconsidered.

Mr Major called Mr Santer 'the right man in the right place at the right time'. But British officials have been privately more lukewarm, saying merely: 'He may work out OK.' The Foreign Office is thought to have been unhappy about Mr Major's handling of the negotiations that led to Mr Santer's appointment.

Mr Santer's comments came in hearings before the Parliament's Socialist group and centre-right European People's Party. He came under criticism and was forced to clarify his intentions. He was evidently trying to swing opinion around in the parliament, which feels the decision on Commission President was badly made. But his comments are hardly surprising given his membership of the EPP, which is committed to a federal Europe, a single currency, and balancing economic integration with a strong social policy.

Mr Santer was pressed over the delicate issue of institutional reform. Britain maintains that the EU conference to be called in 1996 does not need to make substantial changes to EU rules. 'We cannot enlarge without deepening, that is a key objective,' said Mr Santer.

He also said he wanted to roll back national vetoes, something the British government vehemently opposes. 'I am against the rule on unanimity as it is proposed now,' he said, adding that this needed to be discussed in 1996. 'We have to see what the member-states think on eliminating vetoes. We had one bash at it. It was not very successful. It is important to gird our loins and take this quantum leap.'

Though he emphasised his support for subsidiarity, the proposal for making decisions at the appropriate level in the EU, he underlined that this did not mean scrapping EU law.

On social policy, he said he was 'for a Europe strong on social policy. Britain has sought to exclude itself from the EU's plans for new social legislation, but Mr Santer said of Britain's opt-out: 'I was never for it,' adding that 'we worked to prevent it happening' in the negotiations on the Maastricht treaty in 1991.

Mr Santer also took issue with the British government's version of why it vetoed Mr Dehaene. Recently Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, said Mr Dehaene was not appropriate for the task of Commission President. Mr Santer said of Mr Dehaene: 'The description of him given by Douglas Hurd is not at all correct.' And he contradicted the British government's claims about why it vetoed Mr Dehaene, saying: 'I think that the reasons are other than those alleged.' Mr Santer voted for Mr Dehaene at the Corfu summit.

Old ones pick new face, page 15