Toward One Big Europe

December 13, 1991

With the compromises cobbled at the Maastricht summit, the Europe of 12 nations and 345 million people moved closer toward the superstate of their dreams. It will be far more powerful, based on economics and consent, than the one based on bombs and terror that is coincidentally disintegrating a thousand miles to the east. And it will grow. The Maastricht treaty defines what it is that Austria and Sweden will soon join, followed by others.

The agreement on a single European currency by decade's end, the "Ecu" (European currency unit) regulated by a Europe-wide central bank, inspires awe. At a primitive level, it is a blow to German pride in the almighty deutsche mark. Actually, it is a tribute. The Ecu will be the deutsche mark writ large. Britain retains the right to opt out. When the time comes, it won't dare, because the monetary system will be too powerful. Denmark accedes pending a constitutional referendum. This is European Monetary Union (Emu) and it is real.

What Britain may not do is delay the momentum that will inevitably drag it along. As a result of this hesitancy, the European Monetary Institute to be created by 1994 and the European Central Bank in 1997 will undoubtedly not be in the City of London, the financial center that might otherwise have been the right setting. Prime Minister John Major's rear-guard grandstanding against "federalism" was a brilliant performance for holding his Conservative Party together and protecting his leadership of it. But it is at the expense of larger issues, such as Britain's clout in the new Europe.

In his other count-Britain-out ploy, Mr. Major handed a potentially winning campaign issue to Britain's opposition Labor Party. With assignment of some issues to unanimous consent, where Britain can veto but not be omitted, and others left to a majority that could exclude it, Britain in theory escapes the 48-hour maximum work week. (Never mind that almost no one in Britain works such long hours now.) The law governing labor conditions will be promulgated for the 11, omitting Britain. The Labor Party, which 20 years ago fought against going into Europe, will now campaign against the Major government's insularity and for "the social charter."

The European Political Union (Epu) negotiated at Maastricht is more visionary than the monetary union, but less real in defense and foreign policy. It revives the Western European Union as a vehicle for a European Community defense posture within NATO. Believe it when you see it. Epu is a tiny step toward making the European Parliament in Strasbourg a real legislature controlling a foreign and domestic policy, but does not begin to cover the ground. It is monetary union and the direction toward political union, not the distance covered, that Europeans congratulate themselves about today.

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