EU leaders have failed to make the difficult choices

The European Union summit at Biarritz which ended at the weekend was significant, not because too much progress was made towards closer co-operation but because there was too little. The anti-European press in this country tried, as ever, to chill the blood with reports that Tony Blair was prepared to sell out the British veto in several vital policy areas, and that he and Jacques Chirac, the French president, had clashed on the issue of whether a declaration setting out EU citizens' fundamental rights would be legally enforceable.

The European Union summit at Biarritz which ended at the weekend was significant, not because too much progress was made towards closer co-operation but because there was too little. The anti-European press in this country tried, as ever, to chill the blood with reports that Tony Blair was prepared to sell out the British veto in several vital policy areas, and that he and Jacques Chirac, the French president, had clashed on the issue of whether a declaration setting out EU citizens' fundamental rights would be legally enforceable.

But what are the fields in which Mr Blair is prepared to consider more majority voting? Regional aid to poorer areas, the regulation of public transport and the appointment of foreign policy envoys. Not even the littlest Englander could pretend to detect the sinews of a European superstate in such things. The fact is that more majority voting in the building of an open and competitive single market, and in co-ordinating the EU's voice in foreign and security policy, is in the interests of all.

What makes greater use of majority voting all the more urgent is the future accession of new members in central and eastern Europe. A Union of 15 countries does not function well now. A Union of 28 countries simply will not function at all, unless radical reforms are made, both in the extent of majority voting and in the structure of the Commission. What was disappointing about Biarritz, therefore, was the sense that too many of the difficult issues had simply been postponed until the Nice summit in December.

Against this background, differing ambitions for the Charter of Fundamental Rights are a side-show. Britain is bound to regard a new round of human rights legislation as unnecessary, having only just made the non-EU Convention on Human Rights enforceable in domestic law. Most EU members side with Britain on this issue. No, the twin priorities for the EU are to absorb new members and to work more effectively together - in other words, widening and deepening. Thus the most significant development at Biarritz was the welcoming of Serbia to the European family of nations.

This was a reminder that the EU is not just an economic union but a guarantor of peace in Europe, that it has fulfilled the high ideals of its founders in overcoming ancient enmities in western Europe, and that it could do the same in central and eastern Europe. If many of the British people have forgotten such idealism, it is the duty of our leaders to attempt to renew it as they work for the next summit in Nice.

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