Magazine article The Spectator

Chancellor Kohl Says He Wants a Flexible Europe. but He Does Not Mean It

Magazine article The Spectator

Chancellor Kohl Says He Wants a Flexible Europe. but He Does Not Mean It

Article excerpt

The most interesting recent political development has gone largely unnoticed. It has nothing to do with corporal punishment, inflicted by or on Mrs Shephard. It has no electoral resonance, though that could change. An apparently technical debate is taking place on Europe, with much purblind stumbling among the small print, but great issues are at stake. The outcome could determine Britain's future relationship with the EU.

With every passing month, it is increasingly obvious that nothing was settled at Maastricht, which was only Quatre Bras. Waterloo has still to be fought. The battle of Maastricht did check the federalists' ambitions, while enlargement made their task harder. Institutions devised for a tight little grouping of six nations whose political elites share the same goals cannot cope with a community of 15. Jacques Delors once said that he could run a Europe of 12, but not one of 15 or 16. But enlargement did not lead the federalists to renounce their goals; they merely sought another route.

They have now found one. It is called flexibility. To Anglo-Saxon ears, this sounds encouraging, implying a Europe of variable geometry, with individual states who wish to integrate with one another making bilateral or multilateral arrangements without placing any obligation on the others. That is one definition of flexibility, and the very use of the term has alarmed the palaeo-federalists, especially in Brussels. Jean-Luc Dehaene has been complaining that flexibility would make federalism impossible, thus proving two points. The first is that John Major was right to prevent him from becoming President of the Commission; the second, that he does not understand what a devious game the Franco-Germans are playing.

It has been clear for at least a year that the French and Germans intended flexibility to be the big idea at this year's Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), and a paper published last week gives an insight into their thinking. Its keynote phrase was `enhanced co-operation': flexibility is a means of achieving that goal. Far from marking the end of the federalists' dreams, it is merely their latest tactic.

The intention is clear: to allow the original six, plus anyone else who cares to join them, to move towards federalism/political union without being impeded by vetoes from the slower-minded states. Not even Chancellor Kohl believes that a Europe of 15 could federalise as one - let alone a Europe of 20 or 25. The trains to ein Europa will have to travel at different speeds. But there is still only one destination. Herr Kohl would like a Europe in which the inner core controlled the institutions of the EU, including the budget. This inner core would, in practice, be signed up to a single currency, and would also arrogate the right to make decisions on monetary policy. These would be binding on any other state which wanted to trade freely with the EU. So the members of the outer core would be confined to a sort of Eurowaiting-room until they felt ready to embark. They would not be allowed any say in the running of the railroad.

This Teutonic version of flexibility is about as flexible as the German sense of humour is funny. The present British Government has made its position clear. By 'flexibility' it means arrangements which are open to all and agreed by all. Flexibility should not be allowed to compromise any state's rights under the Treaty of Rome including opt-outs. Any decisions on the budget or the commission should be taken by the EU as a whole. …

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