Just one more step, Mr Major: Jacques Attali wonders whether Britain will be joining the management board of Europe

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The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR deserves our thanks for yet again being so very clear. His Leiden speech on Wednesday will be most useful to his partners in Europe. It contained much of which they cannot but approve.

Great Britain was, he said, irrevocably part of the European Union. I can confirm that this is Mr Major's deep and personal conviction, pre- dating his election as British prime minister. And, he said on Wednesday, all countries in the Union were under an obligation collectively to seek out solutions to common problems.

He then explained, quite rightly, that Europe should be considered a single continent extending to the Urals; that it should be unified. It is my belief that this is an essential priority for peace and growth in Europe.

I do, however, regret that Mr Major did not make much mention of Russia or Turkey in his speech. They are, in my opinion, eminently European countries. Their close affiliation to Continental institutions will be the linchpin of economic development and peace in the Europe of the 21st century. Moving to membership negotiations with Russia and Turkey is essential, a matter of urgency, before either of these two countries turns to other quarters.

Mr Major is also quite right to remind us that the Union has some problems that demand urgent settlement. The list he has drawn up is excellent. I would emphasise three areas of concern: first, changing the voting rules in the Union, so as to reduce the power of minorities; second, control of spending (by the Brussels authorities) and third, reform of the Common Agricultural Policy so as to include the Eastern European countries.

But Great Britain should take a further step in our direction. It should, having accepted that it is part of Europe, understand that a unified continent will not be created on the basis of unanimous agreement between all its members, but only on the initiative of a few. My own experience has taught me that in international relations, the only effective strategy is to present people with a fait accompli. If the Community has advanced since the beginning of the Eighties, it has done so as the result of a series of Franco-German agreements which have formed the basis of proposals to the other 10 partners, which subsequently became the single market, the Maastricht treaty and much more besides.

Any attempt to insist on unanimous agreement among the 12 (and soon the 16) member states as the precondition of major decisions is tantamount to irrevocably turning the European Union into a mere free-trade area - and one which would be open to every change in the wind from ambitions outside Europe; this at a time when North America and Asia are taking steps in exactly the opposite direction and organising themselves into commercial blocs which may develop into autonomous political spheres.

The only way to build a competitive Europe is to give the Union an engine or, better still, a brain that can think and take decisions. For the past 15 years the engine has been almost wholly driven by the French and Germans. We need the courage to say bluntly that the so-called 'two-speed Europe' has up to now been the norm, the reality but for which Europe would have stagnated.

We need the courage to admit, frankly, that the 'two- speed Europe' is in some respects little more than an elegant fig-leaf for a French and German management board, without which a united Europe would long ago have perished.

In the final analysis, the agreement of all member states is necessary. But it can be achieved only on the basis of dynamic preparation undertaken by countries willing to drive change, and capable of winning the approval of others. Such preparation would have to occur in a climate of respect for the confidentiality of negotiations undertaken between two or three countries, conducted at a far remove from Brussels bureaucracy, by their politicians or other legitimate representatives.

Today, Europe urgently requires a common position between Great Britain, Germany and France in the following areas:

When should we move on to the next phase of monetary union? If we wait for everyone to reach a consensus, union will never be achieved. In that case, it would have been better if the Maastricht treaty had never been ratified.

Should Russia and Turkey be admitted as full members of the European Union?

How can the financial resources be raised to dismantle, as is urgently required, the nuclear power stations of the former Eastern bloc?

How can a voting system be organised in the European Union to enable decisions to be taken, while respecting the rights of minorities?

What powers should be conferred on the Western European Union in pursuit of the joint defence of the Continent?

The real question is whether Great Britain, now that it is at last committed to Europe, will be willing to make a further move in this direction. Will it join the management board? Such a decision is necessary if Europe is to be taken a step further, straightforwardly and honestly. Only by making that move can Great Britain exert real influence over the future of the Continent.

Step this way, Prime Minister, just a little more if you please]

The writer is former president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development

(Photograph omitted)

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