EUROPE Unity Falling Apart

July 12, 1992|By EDUARDO CUE

PARIS — Paris. -- Events have overtaken the Maastricht Treaty on European unity approved with great fanfare last December by the leaders of the 12 European Community nations, and with the passing of time it is becoming increasingly uncertain that the accord will ever be implemented in its current form.

The treaty would establishes a common currency and an independent central bank to manage it, and would move the community further down the road toward creating a common foreign and security policy. It is coming under attack from a wide spectrum ranging from the left wing of European Socialist parties to the extreme right.

Many Frenchmen are unhappy because the Maastricht accord would allow citizens of Community countries who reside in France to vote in local elections.

Both German bankers and the general public appear increasingly unhappy with the prospect of giving up the Deutschmark, the symbol of their post-war stability and wealth, in favor of a single currency known as the Ecu.

British doubts about creating a federal European state are well known, and if there is little actual opposition to the treaty in the United Kingdom, it is because British Prime Minister John Major negotiated a special deal that allows his country to decide later whether it wants to join the common currency and subscribe to the social policy charter attached to the document.

Smaller countries -- including Denmark, where voters narrowly rejected the treaty in a referendum last month -- are afraid that as the community admits new members, the smaller states will increasingly lose power to the larger countries. The Danes and others, including the British and the Portuguese, are also uncomfortable with the idea of creating and implementing a common defense policy, insisting that the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization should remain the main vehicle for European defense.

Following the Danish rejection of the treaty, key European leaders, including French President Francois Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, attempted to downplay the impact of the vote, arguing that the community could implement the treaty with or without Copenhagen. The Danes, among the most loyal of Europeans, were suddenly cast as traitors unwilling to play the game of European unity .

Yet because the Maastricht accord is mainly a series of amendments to the Treaty of Rome that established the community in its present form in 1957, it must be approved unanimously in order for it to come into effect. At their bi-annual summit in Lisbon at the end of June, EC leaders tried but failed to develop a formula to get around around this sticky legal issue.

Beyond the legal problems it raised, the Danish rejection had the effect of an unexpected barricade a few hundred yards from a fast moving train. European leaders, especially EC Commission President Jacques Delors, were given a harsh lesson in humility, and one immediate result of the vote was a reduction in fact if not in theory of Delors' substantial powers.

"We must now sit down and find out how we were so distant from our voters," Danish Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen said after the treaty's rejection. His comment underlined the schism between the European leaders and their electorates, many of whom see the treaty as a serious threat because it would turn over vast powers to a Brussels-based bureaucracy eager to involve itself in everything from industrial and environmental policy to telling the French how to make cheese.

In addition to creating an unexpected backlash against European unity, the debate over Maastricht has, in effect,

paralyzed the community's decision-making process, at least for the moment. The British, who took over the six-month rotating EC presidency July 1, have been forced to shelve plans to start negotiations on the admission of new members, forcing such economically developed countries as Austria, Sweden, Finland and Switzerland to wait longer for the talks to even begin.

"Negotiations cannot start without the community first solving its own problems." remarked Portuguese Prime Minister Anibal Cavaco Silva at the end of the Lisbon summit.

The problems created by the treaty, which was ratified by Irish voters last month and will be put to the French September 20, have also resulted in the postponement of other key issues. Mr. Mitterrand, Mr. Kohl and Mr. Major, for instance, successfully rejected strong pressure from Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzales to increase aid to the community's poorer countries on grounds that such a step could further erode support for the treaty in the richer countries, notably Germany.

The assistance to Spain, Portugal, Greece and Ireland is designed to help those nations develop more quickly so they can meet the tough macro-economic standards spelled out in the Maastricht Treaty in order to join the common currency.

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