'Europe' Lives

July 27, 1993

The Maastricht Treaty of 1991, tightening the unity of the European Community, is still alive. British House of Commons approval, after Prime Minister John Major made it a test of confidence in his government, means the treaty is as good as ratified in all 12 EC countries. A single currency for most of Europe may become a reality by the next century after all.

The high drama of the treaty's rejection in the House of Commons last Thursday, followed by passage on Friday after Mr. Major threatened an immediate election if it lost, brought him from the pits to the peak of his career. He is the prime minister for Europe. He is for taking Britain further in and keeping it there.

Mr. Major had negotiated an exception for Britain in the Treaty of Maastricht, so that the "social chapter," a large and generous labor law, does not apply there. The "social chapter" will guarantee paternity leaves in private business in EC member countries when it takes effect, but not in Britain. This was necessary to get the ruling Conservative Party to accept it. The opposition British Labor Party and Liberal Democratic Party favor Maastricht, but favor the social chapter as well.

On the first key roll call, anti-European Conservatives voted with Labor and Liberals not to accept the treaty without the social chapter (though Labor and Liberals want both, and the Tory renegades want neither). An angry Mr. Major then made it a confidence issue. If the government lost, it would fall and call an election. In current voter preference polls, the Conservatives come in third. Even anti-Europe Conservatives would lose that election. This brought them into line on the next roll call.

Since Mr. Major replaced the abrasively anti-Europe Margaret Thatcher in November 1990, he has led the Tories to their surprise April 1992 election victory, and then to the lowest in the polls they have ever been. After his initial defeat in the parliamentary maneuvers, he was excoriated as a failure, a has-been, a never-was and worse. After his follow-up victory he resembled his image of 1992 -- a mild-mannered bloke who is indomitable when cornered.

It was a close call, but Britain is in probably to stay and the prospect of a more unified Europe stays alive. The same for the Major government.

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