Santer sketches plan of life after Delors

Jacques Santer, the new President of the European Commission, yesterday laid out his plans for the EU. Andrew Marshall outlines his programme
Click to follow
The Independent Online
The Parliament

To win the approval of the European Parliament, Mr Santer needed to show that he had taken into account the criticism levelled at individual Commissioners after hearings last week. He did, but without giving much ground. The President said that he, personally, would take overall responsibility for human rights and development aid, though he did not change any of the portfolios of any of the Commissioners. Potentially more important, he agreed to renegotiate a 1990 agreement setting out the balance of institutional powers between Commission and Parliament. That could increase the Parliament's influence at the margins.

Equality

Padraig Flynn, the Irish Commissioner for Social Policy, had been considerably criticised by the Parliament for his lack of commitment to sex equality. Mr Santer said Mr Flynn would no longer chair a new Commission committee on the subject, though he would continue to be on the committee. Mr Santer himself would take the chairman's post - a solution that he used in other areas, too. It means Mr Flynn's job remains technically unchanged, but he has lost some face.

Social PolicY

Mr Santer came down strongly against Britain's decision to opt out of the Maastricht treaty's provisions on social policy, which is looking increasingly untenable. "I am sorry that we were not all able to advance together at Maastricht. I hope that in 1996 unity between all 15 members will be restored and that we will take a new step together towards a social Europe," he said. When it comes to 1996 and the EU's reworking of the Maastricht treaty, "social policy will probably have to be reviewed".

Single currency

"If we want a strong economy, we must also have a strong single currency, with no internal exchange risks," said the new President, making clear his commitment to monetary union. "There must be no departing from the path towards economic and monetary union mapped out in the treaty." The economic criteria in the Maastricht treaty must be observed, he said. But so must the time limits which say the date for a single currency must be set by the end of 1998. "The Commission will accordingly prepare a catalogue listing the preparatory work necessary," he said. "I am optimistic. Economic and monetary union will, I am sure, come to pass," he said.

Enlargement

The countries of Central and Eastern Europe would be EU members, said Mr Santer. But that meant more reform to the way the EU takes decisions. "We have a moral and political obligation to open our doors to those European countries which were under Communist dictatorship and could not join us earlier," he said. But "if the price of enlargement were to backtrack on the road to integration, then everyone would lose out," he added. "We must take another giant leap forward, just as we have done at previous enlargements. This will require institutional reform."

Fraud

In words that will have brought joy to the hearts of the British Government, Mr Santer urged: "Let us make the fight against fraud a common priority, at all levels." Legislation should be simplified, and anti-fraud clauses inserted. And he did not shy away from admitting the Commission's responsibilities. "My colleagues and I are determined to improve the Commission's budgetary and administrative culture. Where criticism is justified, we will act on it."

Subsidiarity

Mr Santer has a more restrictive view of the Commission's activities than his predecessor, Jacques Delors. "We must make a constant effort to concentrate on essentials, to do at Community level only that which cannot be done at national level, in short to apply the principle of subsidiarity." Mr Santer attacked those "who deliberately want to interpret it as a way of curbing integration, and so use it as an excuse to bring matters back under national control". But echoing the British government almost w ord for word, he said: "We should take as our motto, less action but better action."

Reform

Mr Santer takes a relatively low-key approach to new policy competences for the EU institutions in the review set for 1996. In particular, in the mainstream of EU activities, he envisages no new moves.

"There is no need for additional powers to be conferred on the European Community," he said. A multi-speed Europe was inevitable, he said, but cautioned: "No member state can be arbitrarily kept out of the vanguard; no one has the right to reject countries that are willing and able to take on the extra responsibilities that implies."

He called for new powers for the European Parliament, in particular. "What about allowing the Parliament to elect my successor from a list put forward by heads of state and government?" he suggested.

Foreign Policy

This is one of the main areas for reform put forward by Mr Santer, since at the moment it is separate from the main EU institutions and run by member governments. "Europe should speak with one voice," he says. The Maastricht treaty "commits us to a common security policy and, eventually, to a common defence.

This will undoubtedly be one of the key issues at the Inter-Governmental Conference." And he made it clear he wants the Commission to play a greater role.

Immigration and Police

The second main area for reform, set out by the new Commission President, was the EU's common home and justice affairs, which is also run at arm's length from the EU institutions at the moment. Its functioning "must be thoroughly re-examined," he said.

"I cannot help wondering whether the member states are lacking the will to act together in this field," he said, and added that the Commission would propose new methods of decision-making - implying the end of total control by member-state governments, something Britain would fiercely support.

He said he wanted passport controls ended, another point at odds with London. "This is incompatible with what I see as the single market," he said.

Comments