European union OK'd by Danes Maastricht treaty faces last hurdle in Britain tomorrow

May 19, 1993|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau

LONDON -- Danish voters reversed their veto of last June an approved the European Treaty of Economic and Political Union yesterday, propelling the accord closer to completion.

With 4 million votes cast and an 85 percent turnout, the treaty for the 12-nation European Community was approved by 56.8 percent of the voters. Last year, only 49.3 percent voted yes to a slightly different version.

"It is a positive outcome," said Hans van den Brock, the European Commission External Affairs Minister.

"We can use a cheer-up, and we thank the Danes for giving it."

Drude Dahlerup, a spokeswoman for a group opposed to the treaty, conceded defeat almost immediately. "It's a historical decision going the wrong way," she said.

Tomorrow the treaty will face its final major hurdle in Britain when the House of Commons takes it up for a third reading. It is expected to be approved.

After passage through the House of Lords and the disposition of legal challenges in various European Community countries, the treaty would become reality.

The accord -- approved by EC members in the Dutch town of Maastricht in December 1991 -- is aimed at giving the bloc's 340 million people more international clout and increasing its economic competitiveness with the United States and Japan. It would create a common currency, central bank, common citizenship and unified defense and foreign policies by 1999.

EC members removed their trade borders this year, and negotiations on some areas such as common currency already have begun with the treaty pending.

But Europeans have experienced disillusionment and lost much of their enthusiasm for the unity that the treaty proposes.

There are many causes of this disillusionment.

The Maastricht treaty was ushered in at a time of greater hope in Europe. The civil wars in the former Yugoslavia had not reached the levels of ferocity and destruction they are running at today, and there was expectation that European mediation would be effective.

It wasn't.

Europe did not stand on the brink of a trade war with the United States then; it was thought differences over agricultural subsidies could be ameliorated under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

They haven't been.

The recession grinds on. Unemployment is high in virtually every European country. The exchange rate mechanism, the device that was to conduct Europe to the monetary union the Maastricht treaty mandated, was weakened by currency speculation, and at least two countries have withdrawn from it.

All these reflect Europe's continuing incapacity to act effectively and in a coordinated way, an incapacity that has deflated much of the optimism that attached itself to the Maastricht treaty.

Still, most Europeans seem to be ready to accept the treaty. They have by now, one expert said, "a more realistic appreciation of what it can do."

The Maastricht treaty was the product of a decision taken by Europe's leaders in response to the chaos that loomed as the Soviet Union disintegrated and the countries of Eastern Europe emerged from their economic and political prison.

The EC's leaders decided the integration process had to be sped up to strengthen the community as a force for stability in an increasingly unstable continent.

The means for achieving this was to commit the community to monetary union through a single currency and to introduce mechanisms like majority voting to establish common EC positions in areas once reserved to national governments, such as foreign and defense policies.

All this required a surrender of sovereignty by the member states. Some accepted it more readily than others. Britain was generally the most resistant, but Denmark was almost as unreceptive.

But the leaders believed the moment was ripe for such a move, especially German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President Francois Mitterrand. And because the political upheavals at the turn of the decade were so frightening, they were able to prevail against the counsel of central bankers and business leaders who argued for a rate of political integration that followed the slow pace of economic integration.

"The vote in Denmark [last June] brought everybody face to face with this reality," said Geoffrey Stephen Woolcock of the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

Still, the treaty proceeded through virtually every country, being approved by hefty majorities in referendum, or winning BTC parliamentary approvals, or scraping through, as in France, where 38 percent of the people still say they are against it.

The opponents in Germany number some 30 percent, and in Britain they may constitute over 40 percent of the electorate.

Right now, few expect the Maastricht treaty to fulfill all it promises. "You may see some partial monetary union by 1999," said Mr. Woolcock. "But the consensus is that target won't be achieved."

But there is one thing the Maastricht experience has done: "The Monnet approach [for Jean Monnet, the father of the European Community], that elites decide policy, that has come to an end. Now the community will become more political, the institutions for assuring democratic accountability will have to be strengthened."

Maastricht also stimulated a discussion of Europe of a breadth and depth that has never been held before in the continent. In the past in most countries, European initiatives weren't discussed below a certain level. Those days are clearly gone.

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