Maastricht is nothing to fear: John Major cannot appease the anti-Europeans in his party. They must be routed, says Lord Gladwyn

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The Independent Online
The British presidency of the European Community should not be allowed to end in a whimper: it should end with a bang. The prospects for achieving that this week, however, do not look good - unless the Government takes a more positive approach to the Maastricht treaty.

General ratification of the treaty will be at the centre of discussion at the Edinburgh summit on Friday. If we are not to reverse the whole process of events during the last 20 years, the treaty must be generally ratified, at the latest by the spring or early summer of 1993. This will not be easy.

In the first place, a small but very vocal number of what can only be called reactionary Tory politicians are conducting an intensive anti-Maastricht campaign on the issue of 'loss of sovereignty'. While they think that their views may appeal to the bulk of the nation, very few of them seem to have any very comprehensive idea of what the treaty is really all about.

The British government finds itself in an embarrassing position. Rightly or wrongly, it has set itself against a referendum and concluded that a final decision must be left to the elected representatives of the nation. It is also aware, however, that if the matter were ever put to a free vote in the House of Commons, the treaty would probably be approved either in its present form or with Labour amendments concerning a common currency and the social chapter (which would not require renegotiation). At the same time it is aware that if no fresh initia-

tive is taken, the treaty is quite likely dead - which would be a disaster. What, then, should it do?

First, the Government should emphasise much more strongly the necessity of closer European unity in the present very dangerous state of the post-Cold War world, and also the patent absurdity of the rebel Tories' claim that Maastricht will inevitably result in something like the United States of America. There will never be, for instance, a president of Europe elected by universal European suffrage, a congress on the American model, federal armed forces, a federal police, or elected governors of the various states, to say nothing of a common language.

Even a common currency, a central bank and a common social policy are excluded from the present treaty, so far as Britain is concerned, and can come into force only with Parliament's consent. Defence hardly figures in the treaty, but it could some day result in a two-tier system, since it may be that certain current members, to say nothing of the Scandinavian states that may join, would find it desirable to opt out.

Next, the Government should make clear that it intends the committee stage of the ratification Bill to be completed by 1 April, if necessary limiting the available time by the application of closure procedures. To persuade the Labour Party to agree - for the closure could no doubt only be applied with its consent - it might say that it would agree to a free vote on the two crucial Labour amendments (common currency and the social chapter) which, if passed, would not involve a renegotiation of the treaty. Analogous procedures would be adopted in the Lords, and the treaty therefore set for general ratification by the beginning of May.

There remains the Danish position, which will be considered at Edinburgh. All that is probably necessary, as regards Section A of the Danish paper (Issues of Common Interest), is for the 11 countries that have ratified, or intend shortly to ratify, to declare their general agreement with the Danish point of view. No legal formulation is required.

As regards Section B - which contains the five points on which the Danes want an actual opt-out from the treaty - they must be told that whatever is agreed at Edinburgh can be put into the form of a protocol to be approved, if possible, by all 11 parliaments before, say, 1 May. They could then be expected to hold their second referendum on or about that date. If ratification were again rejected, the treaty would be dead and the 11 would have to ensure that its provisions were maintained without the participation of Denmark.

The other matters on the Edinburgh agenda are mostly financial. Though important, they are less likely to prevent ratification, given goodwill, than the timetable or the Danes. There must, of course, be give and take on all sides, including the UK. But does it really matter very much whether we agree that the Community budget for 1997 should be pounds 2bn or pounds 3bn more than we at present suggest? We shall be gaining on the swings more than we shall be losing on the roundabouts.

Any Tory prime minister who took such a strongly 'European' line would have to face a storm of protests from the Thatcherite minority in his party. But it is no good thinking that this group of anti-Europeans, who are really living in the past, can be in some way appeased by U-turns - still less by S-turns. They must be routed: that is what politics is about.

We live in a highly dangerous age. It may not be long before the Americans withdraw the bulk of their forces from Europe, leaving the Community largely responsible for its own defence. Then there is the evident necessity of getting Germany firmly embedded in the Community before any extension to the north and the east. Control of nuclear proliferation, too, may well prove impossible unless there is a close relationship between Europe and America. Above all, there are the problems posed by the increasing power of the Third World which, if not solved, may result in a flood of immigrants from the east and south into our already overpopulated democracies.

It is with such things in mind that the Prime Minister should approach the Edinburgh summit. The Maastricht treaty is not ideal: it is the product of compromise. But, with all its faults, it does represent a further step towards unity, not federation. Equally, if it fails, we shall not simply stand still; we will go back. The idea of unity will be eroded and we shall end 'in shallows and in miseries'.

(Photograph omitted)