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EC Readies for Maastricht Summit

As economic union treaty nears completion, issues over political union still divide members

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 6, 1991


THE Soviet Union is dead - long live the European Union.Even as the Eastern superpower the world lived with for more than 40 years continues to disintegrate, the European Community (EC) is planning far-reaching steps toward playing a preeminent economic and political role in European and world affairs. Yet as the EC culminates a year of negotiations on tighter economic and political integration at its summit in Maastricht, Netherlands, the question remains whether the 12-member European Community will have succeeded in its goal: to give itself the power, structure, and unity of purpose necessary to respond to the profound changes across Europe since 1989.

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EC leaders speak out Assessments from principal players range from careful optimism to uncloaked warnings of trouble ahead. "I will be very surprised if the baby isn't born [in Maastricht]," said Dutch Foreign Minister Hans van den Broek, whose country currently holds the EC's rotating six-month presidency, following presummit negotiations this week. "The name is already there: ... European Union." French Minister of European Affairs Elisabeth Guigou is more cautious. "If we agree on a treaty with the elements France and Germany want, then I think we'll have something as important, if not more, than the Rome Treaty," she says, referring to the Community's founding constitution. "Most important, that will allow us to start the process of European political union." Germany and France want a treaty that provides the foundation for a common European foreign and security policy, and a common defense. Britain is the principal naysayer - though it is not alone - preferring a treaty that simply enhances the Community's current system of intergovernmental political cooperation. Germany and France, for example, want the Western European Union, a defense organization including nine of the EC's 12 members, to become the Community's defense arm. They support treaty language stating the WEU will act in conformity with the decisions of the European Union, though its actions should also reflect "positions adopted by the Atlantic Alliance." Britain, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Denmark accept the second clause making the WEU subordinate to NATO, while refusing the organization's evolution into the EC's defense structure. Perhaps most pessimistic over the prospects of a treaty allowing the Community to assume "a greater international role" is EC Commission President Jacques Delors. After warning last month that the draft political union treaty's emphasis on intergovernmental action instead of on giving new powers to EC institutions would be "crippling," Mr. Delors this week said political action as now outlined "is not going to work." The draft treaty calls for some extension of majority voting on foreign policy in areas where Community members first agree unanimously that the majority opinion should rule. "Delors's first responsibility is the Community's proper and efficient functioning and not individual members' sovereignty," says one EC official close to Delors. "He can see that if each debate must be preceded by a long discussion over voting procedures, very quickly we lose all credibility," the official adds. While the EC heads of state and government have substantial problems to solve over political union as the summit opens, much of the economic union treaty is complete. The Community appears ready to adopt a text that will almost certainly lead to a single currency by the end of the decade. Based on a French proposal, the treaty calls for a European central bank and single currency to be created either by unanimous vote by Dec. 31, 1996, or failing that, by majority vote by Dec. 31, 1998. Accompanied by complicated regulations designed to reduce imbalances among national budgets and economies, limiting members' deficits, for example, the economic treaty builds a European monetary system on Germany's model. An issue remaining to be settled is that of an "opt-out" clause for countries not wishing to participate in the single currency. Britain has already won the right to such a clause for itself, but wants the clause to be general. But if the summit runs into a third day, as some observers predict, it will be because of what British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd this week called the "formidable task" remaining on political union.