Failure of Dutch Proposal Highlights Deep EC Rift
Prospects for treaty on political union by December now seem remote
THE closer the European Community draws to its December summit, where important accords on tighter political integration are due to be signed, the further off any substantial agreement seems to be.With less than 10 weeks left before the summit in Maastricht, Netherlands, negotiations are almost no further along than they were in June, when leaders of the 12-country Community accepted a draft treaty by Luxembourg as the basis for discussion. Concern over inertia in the talks toward what the EC calls "political union" burst into the open this week when EC foreign ministers shot down a Dutch proposal for a new draft treaty. Other EC members complained loudly that the Dutch proposal made the road to a political union agreement more difficult, because it came so late in the negotiations or because it included very controversial issues not presented in the Luxembourg draft. But the Dutch respond that their draft treaty - which they offered as the current holders of the EC's rotating six-month presidency - brought into the open the deeply divergent visions the 12 members have of the Community's future. The Dutch proposal opened the way to a federal structure for the Community, gradually placing such areas as foreign policy, immigration, and police, under EC jurisdiction. The Luxembourg draft leaves cooperation in these areas at the intergovernmental level, outside Community control. "The major reason for our document," said Dutch Foreign Minister Hans van den Broek, was that the Netherlands "wanted to bridge the differences that had become perfectly clear" in recent discussions. Disagreement over the Dutch draft revealed why agreement on political union is so difficult. The Germans didn't like it because it didn't go far enough. A German Foreign Ministry spokesman said the draft did not grant enough new powers to the European Parliament or make progress in forging a common foreign and security policy and in extending EC jurisdiction to such areas as immigration, the environment, and law enforcement. The British, on the other hand, opposed the Dutch treaty for exactly the opposite reasons. For them, what new powers the Dutch did suggest for the European Parliament amounted to an intolerable erosion of their Parliament's sovereignty. Language suggesting a common defense policy by 1996 was equally anathema to the British, although it was considered much too weak by the French. EC leaders can still be expected to reach some agreement on political union before the Maastricht summit: Not to do so would endanger concurrent treaty negotiations proceeding more smoothly on economic and monetary union, since Germany says it will not accept closer monetary ties to its European partners without closer political unity. Failure to reach accord on political union would also be devastating for the Community's international stature. But a growing number of EC observers believe the Community is likely to settle on what EC Commission President Jacques Delors fears may be a "minimal treaty," one that reflects the lowest common ground. Mr. Delors, an unapologetic Euro-federalist, was adamant this week in his support for the more ambitious Dutch approach and warned that reverting to an earlier draft treaty solves none of the disagreements. "You may be more comfortable in your Luxembourgeois slippers than in your Dutch walking shoes," he colorfully admonished his EC colleagues, "but don't forget ... all the difficulties remain." EC foreign ministers will begin tackling those difficulties this weekend at an informal meeting in the Netherlands. In addition, the Dutch have decided to try to speed up the framing of a political union treaty by doubling negotiation sessions to two a week. The political agenda remains the same: Should the EC increase efficiency by allowing more majority, in the place of unanimous, voting? Should the Community's "democratic deficit," so called because an increasing number of decisions are made by unelected commissioners in Brussels, be reduced by increasing the powers of the largely advisory European Parliament? How common an EC defense; how federal a Community structure? All "heady questions," as one German official said this week, to answer by early December.