Britain's Major sets new course on Europe unity

March 12, 1991|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- Prime Minister John Major, rejecting Thatcher-style confrontation with the continent, yesterday pledged Britain will now be "at the very heart of Europe."

Mr. Major said he would relish negotiations for a Europe "more united, rather than less."

"I am sure myself that Europe is stronger when Britain, France and Germany are working together and Britain is able to play a full part at the very center of the European Community," he said.

He chose a meeting in Bonn with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to present a striking contrast to his predecessor Margaret Thatcher's strident opposition to European unity.

Mr. Major pointed out that at 47 he is the first British leader to grow up after World War II, giving him a more positive view of Europe.

His choice of Germany to chart the new approach was particularly significant. Mrs. Thatcher's relationship with the German chancellor was almost openly hostile, and only last weekend she warned that greater European unity would lead to German domination.

Mr. Major was at pains to make it clear that he and "Helmut" were forging a new personal bond as well as a political partnership and spoke of the "warmth" emerging between the two countries.

A German official told the BBC: "The hatchet has been buried."

Although the difference between the Major and Thatcher approaches was recorded in style and tone rather than substance yesterday, there is little doubt here that the new British attitude will lead to speedier progress in constructing the new Europe.

Mrs. Thatcher's opposition to European unity -- she favored only closer bilateral cooperation -- was laid down most dramatically two years ago in a blunt rejection of a European superstate run from Brussels.

That speech, delivered in Brugge, Belgium, was widely seen as the start of the anti-European stridency that helped bring about her downfall last fall.

In contrast, Mr. Major said yesterday: "My aim for Britain in the [European] community can be simply stated: I want us to be where we belong -- at the very heart of Europe."

He was willing to discuss "openly and positively" European cooperation in pursuit of "evolutionary not revolutionary" change.

"Britain will relish the debate and the argument. That is the essence of doing business in today's community, and we want to arrive at solutions that will enable us to move forward to a Europe more united, not less so."

Mr. Major, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, said he continued to reserve judgment on a common European currency but expressed confidence that the community would eventually produce arrangements that would be acceptable to Parliament.

Mrs. Thatcher rejected outright the idea of a common currency.

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