Leaders at odds over EU's aims

SARAH HELM

Majorca

The European summit opened here yesterday in division and acrimony as doubts intensified over monetary union and leaders clashed over the fundamental aims of the European Union.

Heads of government appeared confused over how to organise next year's Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC) on EU reform, and the European Commission seemed defensive and angry over the minimalist approach, called for by Britain, and now winning some support from France, and even Germany.

The 15 leaders did agree on one thing: that the EU must win back support from ordinary European people. But there was no consensus on how this should be done. Holed up in their hotel on the Formentor promontory, the leaders were unable to take any advice from Majorca's holidaymakers or to hear the drubbing their summitry was receiving on the beaches.

"What's it all about? A waste of our money. Europe? A waste of bloody time," was how one elderly British woman summed up the mood.

John Major argued that reaching out to the citizen should involve fighting against "rhetoric and dogma", saying that more institutional change would alienate and confuse the citizens further. The EU should be wary of "absorbing all its energy in a turf battle" at next year's IGC, "thereby fiddling while Europe burns", was how one Downing Street source summarised the Prime Minister's position on the matter yesterday.

At the other end of the spectrum, Jacques Santer, President of the European Commission, argued that major changes to the EU's institutions and decision- making machinery were the only way to build a workable union. "No to minimalist approach," Mr Santer told the heads of government. Without facing up the challenge of far-reaching reform at next year's IGC the union would be unprepared to expand its membership to 30, as intended.

Such were the philosophical differences over how deeply the EU should re-shape itself as the millennium approaches, and how it should adapt to welcome new members, that the chance of any concrete decisions emerging in Majorca appeared slight.

The debate was further soured by rows between specific member states. Germany and Italy were daggers drawn over the suggestions by German that Italy would not be among the first countries to join monetary union. The brutal frankness of the German statement has fuelled fears of German bullying, and set several weaker European states on edge over the single currency. In the conference corridors fears were expressed about whether the Maastricht treaty might have to be re-written to delay the third stage of monetary union or to tighten the economic criteria for joining.

Anger continued to rumble among several member states over French nuclear tests. France is also at odds with its neighbours over its refusal to honour the Schengen agreement which calls for the lifting of border controls.

Meanwhile, for once, Mr Major has cause to celebrate the fact that Britain was not the only state facing the flack at a summit. Furthermore, he had good cause to hope that the Government's wish for a slowing of EU integration is now being fulfilled.

The strongest indication of this came when the core issues over how to tackle next year's IGC appeared to have been put off once again. There was no discussion yesterday of whether the IGC should consider an increase in majority voting, for example, or more powers for the Commission in areas of justice or foreign policy.

Mr Major told leaders that the EU must prepare for taking in new members, but this should be done primarily by ensuring that the union can "afford" enlargement, by overhauling the common agricultural policy and structural funding.

There was no concern that the IGC might extend for so long that it would clash with a British election. "The British government is not particularly fussed about the duration of the IGC," said one Downing Street official.

"IGC? What IGC?," was the tone adopted by Mr Major's advisers at briefings yesterday.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee