Kohl warns of war if European Union fails

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Chancellor Helmut Kohl yesterday warned in the most strident terms that a retreat from further political integration in Europe could plunge the continent into new "nationalist" wars in the next century.

In language intended to challenge the rise of Euro-scepticism - no longer a merely British phenomenon - the German leader proclaimed: "The policy of European integration is in reality a question of war and peace in the 21st century."

Beseeching his European partners to take far-reaching decisions on further EU integration at the Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC) in March, he said: "If we suffer a set-back now on the road to Europe it will take considerably longer than one generation before we are given such an opportunity again."

Mr Kohl said he was not advocating a "superstate". But he added: "We have no desire to return to the nation state of old. It cannot solve the great problems of the 21st century. Nationalism has brought great suffering to our continent."

Recalling his friendship with Francois Mitterrand, who died last month, he said that the former French president shared his view that "nationalism is war".

Mr Kohl's warnings were clearly directed in part at Britain, where the Government has been fuelling fears of further integration and questioning the timetable for the creation of a European single currency.

"If individual partners are not prepared, or able, to participate in certain steps towards integration," he said, "the others should not be denied the opportunity to move forward and develop increased co-operation in which all partners are welcome to take part." This was a renewed plea for the Franco-German proposals for a "hard-core" Europe of federally- minded countries which would relegate Britain to a Euro-sceptic periphery.

Mr Kohl's speech, delivered at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate, came as doubts about the future course of Europe have reached a new pitch. European politicians have increasingly questioned the timetable for the creation of a single currency by 1999; enthusiasm for enlargement of the EU to the east has waned; and there is growing evidence that the reform process due to start next month will be limited.

Mr Kohl has frequently argued that strengthening the EU is essential if German power is to be contained. His fear is that a dominant Germany, unshackled by common European rules, would fuel nationalism among its neighbours, putting Europe back on the road to the wars which disfigured the first half of this century.

The Chancellor made it clear that, despite warnings of the imminent collapse of the plans for European Monetary Union, he believes that the single currency remains the linchpin of the next phase of European integration. He called for "considerable efforts on everybody's part to achieve a major step forward". He also restated his conviction that enlarging the EU to take in new members from the East was crucial to Europe's future.

Mr Kohl emphasised that the IGC reform process should be used to restructure European institutions for greater power-sharing in the next century. He set out four areas in which Germany wants to see progress: a strengthening of the EU's foreign and security policy; more pooling of powers in criminal justice; greater openness in decision-making and more power for the European Parliament.

Acknowledging that warnings of further war were not popular, the Chancellor said: "My warnings may contain an unpleasant truth. [But] if there is no momentum for continued integration this will not only lead to standstill but also to retrogression."