Summit Moves EC toward Union but Britain's Insistence on an 'Opt-Out' Clause Also Revives Prospects for Two-Speed Europe. EUROPEAN UNITY

By Howard LaFranchi, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 12, 1991 | Go to article overview

Summit Moves EC toward Union but Britain's Insistence on an 'Opt-Out' Clause Also Revives Prospects for Two-Speed Europe. EUROPEAN UNITY


Howard LaFranchi, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


THE European Community took substantial steps toward economic union and an eventual European defense at its summit here this week. But at the same time, the Community of 12 moved backward in ways that could spell trouble for the future.

Facing an adamant and unmovable Britain, 11 EC members agreed to pursue a social policy dealing with such issues as labor and employment on their own. Although the move saved the summit - and a year of negotiations for tighter economic and political integration - from collapse, it set a bad precedent at a time when the Community is envisioning its own enlargement.

In a watershed move, the Europe of the German deutsche mark, the French franc, the Dutch guilder, and the British pound is now virtually certain to have a single currency by 1999, if not a year or two before.

The foundation blocks of a European defense, complementing the NATO alliance, yet carrying increasing weight as the United States scales back its European military presence, have been laid.

While those decisions suggest closer European cooperation, the move on social policy portends years of disagreements. Other European countries lining up to join the EC also may be emboldened to demand exceptions from Community regulations.

"We just got through very difficult negotiations {creating a 19-country free-trade zone between the EC and countries of the European Free Trade Association} that were held up because we insisted everybody had to play by the same rules. Are we now sending a very different message?" asked one senior EC official. Iceland had sought to protect its fishing waters from EC fishing boats, while Switzerland and Austria wanted to preserve their Alpine passes from EC transport trucks.

By approving an economic and monetary union agreement that grants Britain its own "opt-out" clause and establishes strict economic criteria before countries can participate in the single currency, the new EC treaty also revives prospects of a "two-speed Europe" where the "good students" would leave behind the "bad." That could increase pressure for difficult political unity. Setting positive tone

Yet early yesterday, as EC leaders assessed the treaty they had forged after two days of talks, their tone was positive and generally encouraging for the EC's future and European role. Accustomed to hard bargaining, leaders said the accords went as far as current conditions allowed.

"When I take into consideration the total, I consider it's a good result," said Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, who holds the EC's rotating six-month presidency. He noted that the new treaty calls for the first time for Community action in internal justice, immigration, and political asylum.

Only a few years ago "there was no enthusiasm at all to bring those areas into the sphere or our Community," he said. At the same time, he acknowledged that in the areas of economic union and social policy, "one can talk about a difference of pace."

German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said that "with the decision at Maastricht, this Europe has reached a decisive breakthrough." Brushing off criticisms that aspects of the economic union and social policy decisions set back Community integration, he said "the current of history leads to . …

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