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Bill Cash MP
for Stone

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Grinding their own axis

 An article by Bill Cash published in The Times on 26 February 1990 


The Valentine to Britain from Helmut Schmidt and Valery Giscard d'Estaing published on this page on February 14 was not very communitaire. Of course we recognize that the origins of the European Community lie in the determination of France and Germany after the Second World War never to allow another such conflict. But times move on. The failure of the two former leaders to come to terms with the requirements of the Europe of the 1990s is depressing. 


It is true that, with the changes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the evolution of the Community is no longer dependent upon or merely a response to the Cold War. But those very changes emphasize the drive for freedom of choice and self-determination in Europe as a whole. That is a world away from the Schmidt-Giscard call for a European federal union which would be based on narrow French and German self-interest. Their article should raise concern about the federalists' motivation, for the threat of federalism is in many ways worse than the impetus for centralization coming from Jacques Delors and the Commission. 


The insistent claim of those espousing a federal Europe is that it would prevent a reversion to nationalism. But nothing is more likely to undermine a constructive approach to developing the EC as a framework for good relations between all 12 member states than the belief that it is based on a "Franco-German axis", as the former leaders put it, with the two countries "acting as one". 


Indeed, it takes little imagination to recognize the dangers to the other member states, following the Single European Act, of a policy based on the economic and voting strength of these two nations. Those dangers would be all the greater when a reunified Germany makes a strong drive into East European markets. 


The authors recognize that "the growth in economic power of the reunified Germany will have to be offset", but it is difficult to see how "the use of EC resources" can achieve this or can "accelerate the development of southern Europe so as to maintain the equilibrium between the different parts of the Community" without putting a severe strain on Britain, Holland, Denmark and the Benelux countries, particularly if France and Germany work closely together. 


It is ironic that the cause of federalism should be promoted by such an outdated argument, for nothing is more likely than federalism to upset economic equilibrium and the balance of power in Europe. It is perhaps fortunate that, in common with their federal allies elsewhere in Europe, the authors are no longer in power. Theirs is a Europe of the past, and judging from reports from Paris after President Mitterrand's dinner for Chancellor Kohl on February 15, their article by no means reflects current thinking in the Elysee Palace. 


The development of Europe should take into account the interests of all EC states. The Community should trade more freely within and outside the Community, eastwards and westwards, and should create alliances with East European countries. The new Europe should be based on freedom of choice and self-determination for all the nations of Europe, working together for peace and avoiding clusters or axes of the kind proposed by the Schmidt-Giscard article. 


Many of the difficulties that France is now experiencing, including its over-dependence on the Deutschmark, are the consequence of over-enthusiasm for a federal Europe which, even before reunification became a certainty, could not restrain the economic power of Germany. 


"Political engineering" of the federal kind advocated by Delors and repudiated by Britain is no substitute for the creation of a practical EC based on alliances between independent countries which remain primarily accountable to their national parliaments and electorates. 


The European Community has much to offer each of its member states, but in the run-up to the intergovernmental conference after the East German elections next month, we must above all sustain a down-to-earth policy. 


We could usefully propose an amendment to the European treaties to prevent the creation of a federal system. Another amendment could diminish the expanding powers of the Commission, which, now that there is majority voting in the Council of Ministers, need to be restrained. 


The way to ensure that, in the words of Schmidt and Giscard, "Europe maintains the balance it vitally needs" is through economic co-operation and liberalization, not by the creation of a federal union with common foreign, military and security policies, a central bank and binding but unenforceable rules on budget deficits. 


Nor should we endorse the doctrine of "subsidiarity", which, if made a legal rule and applied to a treaty amendment imposing monetary and economic union of the kind envisaged by the authors and the Commission, would relegate the Westminster Parliament and our government to provincial status. 


In such a Europe the Franco-German axis advocated by Schmidt and Giscard would be a Pandora's box, not a Valentine. 

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