Conservative Victory in Britain Encourages European Community
NOW that British Prime Minister John Major has elections safely behind him, the expectation across the English Channel is that he will cooperate more fully on European unification.
The view on the continent is that by winning a majority on his own merits, Mr. Major is now truly his own man - free from the foot-dragging policies toward European unity of Margaret Thatcher and her right-wing colleagues.
"The right-wing Conservatives who put the brakes on unity are in a way irrelevant now. He's put them behind him," says Angelika Volle, specialist on the European Community for the German Society for Foreign Affairs in Bonn.
Britain is now much more likely to give ground on monetary union and join a single European currency, say observers of the political scene in Europe. London may even move closer toward a single European foreign policy and security policy, adds Ms. Volle.
The British stood glaringly alone at the European Community summit in Maastricht last December, which was called to map out the way toward a united Europe.
They insisted on "opt-out" clauses from both monetary union and the so-called "social chapter," which deals with EC decisions on labor and employment issues.
Major came to the summit under pressure from Mrs. Thatcher and his party's right wing not to sacrifice British autonomy for European unity. His "a la carte" approach in Maastricht greatly irritated his EC colleagues.
"Now that he is free from the election, Major will move toward a more centrally accepted European position," says Dominique Moisi, deputy director of the French Institute for International Studies in Paris.
Mr. Moisi says the British will probably give up their resistance to European monetary union, though, like Volle, he believes they will stand firm on their exemption from the social chapter.
In the past, Major has said he will not roll back a decade of labor reform and improved competitiveness of British firms just to comply with EC decisions in the labor field. He enjoys widespread support on this position within his party.
"Major would have terrible trouble in in his own party if he signed the social chapter," says a British diplomat on the continent who asked not to be named.
The diplomat agrees that London will probably turn more agreeable regarding the monetary side of European union, but cautions those "who expect too much, too quickly."
He predicted that Britain would keep the monetary opt-out clause at least until 1996, when EC leaders meet to review progress on the Maastricht summit decisions. But, he added, "it will become much more clear that the opt-out clause won't be used."
On the continent, meanwhile, recent elections in Italy, Germany, and France show people much more concerned with pressing domestic problems in their countries and far less interested in European unity. They are having second thoughts about all that Maastricht implies, says a spokesman at the European Commission in Brussels.
Part of the reason behind this backlash against European unity, Moisi says, is that most of these countries did not engage in a national debate on the subject before the Maastricht summit, the way the British did. It was only in the last few days before the summit, for instance, that most Germans realized that a single European currency meant giving up the treasured deutsche mark.
Given the new misgivings about European unity on the continent and the expected new cooperation from London, Britain and the other EC countries will now probably meet somewhere in the middle and have a more harmonious relationship, political observers say.
The only trouble, notes the European Commission spokesman, is that this could negatively affect "the quality" of European union. If both sides move to the middle, he says, the "ambitious" program worked out at Maastricht could be compromised.