EC summit in Britain aimed at shoring up Major Being swallowed is England's fear

October 16, 1992|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,Sun Staff Correspondent

BIRMINGHAM, England -- A European Community summit meeting opens here today, but a lot of people in Europe are not at all sure why.

Its original purpose was to deal with the currency crisis that shook Europe in September. That's why the British called it, since they were shaken possibly more than anybody else. But the money markets are calm now, and the EC finance ministers won't even be here.

One German source suggested that summit meetings should be used sparingly; nothing, he said, stimulates the atmosphere of crisis so much as a meeting of heads of state.

By the time this year ends, there will have been three EC summit meetings, one more than the usual two, and the sense of crisis in Europe is palpable.

The Birmingham summit meeting under the auspices of the British, who currently hold the rotating presidency of the EC, has turned its attention to other purposes. These are described by British officials as encouraging openness and "transparency" in the community's business; emphasizing the benefits the community holds for the common man.

Britain also wants to get some kind of public commitment by the 12 EC governments to its concept of subsidiarity, a declaration on how it will be implemented.

Subsidiarity is the word used to describe the transfer of powers and decision making from the EC's bureaucracy in Brussels back to the member governments. In other words reversing the flow of authority toward the EC center.

Prime Minister John Major conceived the idea of subsidiarity as a way to quiet fears about European union in Britain, fears increasingly stimulated by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Norman Tebbit, the former Conservative Party chairman, and others who say Britain is in danger of being swallowed up in a federal Europe.

The British have assumed these fears are rampant in Europe. They point to the difficulty the Maastricht Treaty on European Union has encountered in ratification. Denmark rejected the treaty; France barely approved it. But Ireland strongly endorsed it, a fact the British rarely mention.

Whether these fears are as widespread in Europe as in Britain is uncertain. But here they have grown so disturbing there is at least some doubt the Conservative government will be able to ratify the Maastricht Treaty when it is brought before the House of Commons, at least not without the embarrassment of having to rely on Labor Party votes.

Thus, some believe this summit meeting may be more an exercise in domestic British politics, an attempt to soothe British minds troubled by the encroaching European monster state, than a really justifiable international meeting of heads of state.

Jacques Delors, the European Commission president, gave credence to this yesterday when he said, "I hope that this European council could help Mr. Major, because I recognize the political situation is difficult in Britain."

Not all members of the community share Britain's fears of the growing powers of the EC's Brussels administration. The Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds told Prime Minister Major this week that Ireland had no intention of helping to weaken the European Commission. Felipe Gonzales, the Spanish prime minister said much the same. Smaller countries see the commission as a defense against the larger states.

Even Denmark, which rejected the Maastricht treaty by a razor thin margin in June, does not share Britain's ideals about the community. The Danes are opposed to the single currency and the joint defense policies called for in the treaty, but are strongly in favor of the treaty's social chapter, which governs work rules and welfare. Britain opted out of that part of the document.

And Mr. Delors, while willing to give Mr. Major a hand, said he would fight the British attempt to give individual states a veto over commission proposals before they are formally made, or in any other way weaken the commission.

As things stand, the mission of the commission is to propose initiatives and for the individual states to accept, reject or modify them. The British would like to have a veto even before the process begins.

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