Santer unveils a cautious plan of action for the EU

Click to follow
The European Commission yesterday unveiled its work programme for 1995, including commitments to put a single currency in place and remove border controls. But its hallmark is a more minimalist approach and a focus on keeping existing EU rules.

"We must take care not to overdo the legislation," Jacques Santer, the Commission President, told the European Parliament. "Acting less is something that we can do," he said.

If anything, the programme is thin on new initiatives. Mr Santer said there were 52 new proposals for legislation, the same as last year and far below the peak of 180 proposals launched in 1990, the high point of activism under Jacques Delors.

There can have been little to surprise Britain: the commitment to remove border controls and the idea of preparing for a single currency are long- established. Both were in treaties ratified after full parliamentary debate, though London disputes the Commission's interpretation of the first and has an opt-out from monetary union.

Mr Santer did not mention border-control removal. But the work programme includes a commitment to "practical application of the principle of the elimination of border controls" and adaptation of secondary legislation. The border-control pledge got strong support from Klaus Hnsch, President of the European Parliament. "The European Union cannot go back ... I am convinced that the British Government will and must fulfil the treaty they have signed.''

The programme gives high priority to preparing for a single currency, a process the Prime Minister has said is no more than a "rain dance". But Mr Santer said: "The timetable has been agreed. I am simply asking that we stick to it." In particular, the Commission is to bring forward a new green paper for practical steps required for a single currency, on the basis that the EU may go ahead with such a project in 1997.

The vast bulk of Mr Santer's work programme concerns everyday work of the Commission, still largely the result of the single-market programme and its consequences. In particular, the programme includes a long section on future legislation for research and development, information technology and telecommunications. There is a big section on better management of the Union, in terms that would cheer a British minister. It includes commitments to greater transparency (openness), consolidating EU legislation to make it easier to understand and stepping up the fight against fraud. "My watchwords for this lap of the journey will be openness, efficiency and joint consultation," said the Commission President.

There has undoubtedly been a fundamental shift in the Commission from activism towards a more conciliatory approach. Mr Delors's departure is only part of this: in his last years even he was less keen to put forward new plans. The main reason is that the vast mass of single-market legislation is now in place.

A large part of the Commission's plans is for liberalisation and deregulation of European industry and services, most of which the Government backs solidly. There are, for instance, three pages on liberalisation of Europe's telecommunications sector, much of which is modelled on British structures.