The European Crisis: Delors scorns 'mediocre' national leaders: Appeal for statesmanship

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The Independent Online
Jacques Delors yesterday issued a stinging attack on the indecisive reaction of Europe's national leaders to the chaos on the currency markets and the crisis of public confidence in the Maastricht treaty, as Germany hinted it would take the lead if Britain did not.

'We need statesmen who can confront their people (with the realities of Europe's problems),' the president of the Commission said yesterday. 'A statesman is a man who sees far and broad in spite of internal problems. But what do they propose instead? The short-term satisfaction of public opinion. It has led to decline and ridicule.'

Attacking 'the mediocre compromises' of national politicians, and 'their vanity', the French head of the Community's civil service warned passionately that the entire future of Europe is at stake. 'No national bravado, no reference to the sovereignty of nations, can change that,' he said.

Mr Delors revealed that the Commission is working on proposals either to reform the exchange rate mechanism or to help a smaller number of countries move speedily to monetary union. 'We're working on it already, but it's not really the moment to put forward proposals,' he said. 'I have to be very cautious.'

In a veiled reference to John Major's announcement that he will present the Maastricht treaty to Parliament only after hearing how Denmark wants it changed, he said: 'If some countries are looking for alibis to delay the treaty, it may well be that others will take the lead.'

Pre-eminent amongst those who want to push ahead is Germany. Expressing doubts as to whether Britain will ratify the treaty, Karl Lamers, the governing Christian Democrats' Foreign Affairs spokesman, said yesterday this 'gives Germany no choice but to do something else, for standing still effectively means going backwards. Call it two-speed, variable geometry, whatever, but the fact remains that those who are willing and able to go on must do so.'

The problems over Maastricht have pointed up the need for a 'more flexible order', explained Mr Lamers. 'I feel sorry for Britain, but it must make up its mind. The Danish problem is soluble, but only if Britain moves first.' As soon as it should become clear that Britain cannot ratify, then a core Europe will have to move ahead, he said, adding: 'In recent weeks we have seen just how quickly things can happen.'

Still hoping to avoid what would amount to a split in the EC, Mr Kohl is continuing his public campaign for an 'interpretive declaration on Maastricht'. To be passed at the special summit on 16 October in Birmingham, it would be aimed at dispelling popular fears of a loss of national identity through European union, and at curbing the centralising tendencies of Brussels. Mr Kohl said he wants to put a stop to the 'fury of regulations' emanating from the Brussels bureaucracy, handing certain powers back to the countries and regions.

In an address to Parliament in Bonn today, Helmut Kohl is expected to emphasise his wish to see the Maastricht treaties take effect in the new year, despite some nations' reservations, while outlining his ideas for making Europe more 'citizen-friendly'.

Ideas for clipping the Commission's wings received short shrift from Mr Delors yesterday. While paying lip-service to the growing consensus that the Community needs to become more open and democratic if it is to win public support, he set his face firmly against the demand made earlier this week by Poul Schluter, Denmark's Prime Minister, that meetings of the Council of Ministers and of the Commission should be made public.

'I don't think that making Commission deliberations public would make things any more democratic. When meetings are public, the actors tend to have one eye on the subject, and the other on the media. It seems to me that applying the principle of subsidiarity, there are better solutions.'

Mr Delors promised that the Commission will intervene less often and more selectively after the single market comes into effect at the beginning of next year. He echoed John Major's promise that even after integration, the 'French will be no less French . . . and the British no less British.'

But he presented an unrepentantly idealistic view of what he calls 'the European construction'. And he rejected abruptly the idea, supported by the British Government, that the EC should start talks with countries that want to join before it has sorted out Maastricht.

'Why welcome them into the house if the architects are still arguing about the way to build it?' he asked. Speaking at a conference in Brussels devoted to the now unfashionable theme of an expansionist Europe, Mr Delors expressed the view that Europe has in fact been in decline since the end of the First World War. 'It has lost its empires, its cultural influence. It is divided in international forums. The world is changing. Europe has to adjust. But I don't want decline.'

(Photograph omitted)