INTERVIEW OF KARL LAMERS
by Victor Smart
SUMMARY: Karl Lamers argues that the 'hard core' is in
better shape than ever to speed integration. The British can be part of the process or leave it to others but tactics won't save them from the essential decision. Victor Smart poses the questions. (The European, 10-16 Fbruary 1995)
- What lessons have you learned from publishing the socalled CDU/CSU Reflections paper? Did a backlash set in to the hard-core idea?
- We reached our most important goal with the publication of our "Thoughts about European Policy": to establish a European-wide public. The publication has provoked a broad, European-wide discussion which we were delighted with. The idea of a hard-core Europe that is open to every country also met with the approval of most member states.
There is agreement, I think, that all countries no longer can or want to continue at the same speed in all areas, especially against the background of an imminent extension to the East. That is why all, without even the exception of Great Britain, want more flexibility. Not all favour the establishing of a hard core at the same time. Some, in fact most of them, because they cannot - or cannot yet - join the hard core; others, like Great Britain, because they are opposed to the idea as such, because it will eventually lead to a stronger integration in the whole European Union.
- What has the French presidential frontrunner, Edouard Balladur, made of the plan?
- Balladur follows our hardcore model. He prefers to talk about circles, and another difference is the fact that Balladur thinks about tighter circles for different political areas, whereas we think all members of a hard core must progress simultaneously in all areas.
Inasmuch as our hard core works like a magnet, the other member countries will join the hard core sooner or later and it should thus dissolve. Balladur's circles don't seem to pursue the same aim of integration for all member countries, because each member state is free to choose which circle to join and which not. This is problematic from our point of view.
What's more, Balladur's model raises more hard to resolve questions of an institutional kind than, we have to say, our idea does. Other concepts do exist in France, which correspond more or less completely to our ideas, and the French position will be clear only after the presidential elections. The main point is that the necessity of a hard core seems to be generally accepted.
The discussion about our suggestion of a core Europe has brought an interesting dividend: every country wants to belong to the hard core; opting-in is the fashion, with one exception: Great Britain would like to prevent the opting-in - that is, prevent the establishment of a hard core completely. Otherwise, everyone wants to join.
But if a currency union comes about, Great Britain will join because it is in its national interest. The tradition of London as a financial centre is only one of the many reasons for that.
- John Major has said recently that the IGC would probably not come up with major constitutional changes and that the idea of a single currency is "falling away". Do you agree?
- I don't think John Major is right. Next year will see an acceptable outcome for all 15, or the establishment of a hard core that will also include the currency union, which will come in 1999 at the latest, if not by 1997. The chances of this happening have never been as good as they are today, as the experts make clear.
Europe is on the brink of an economic upturn. That will also promote the economic and currency union. Besides, it will become clear that hopes of a profound change in France's European policy ideas will be proved just as vain as they have been in the past.
France's insistence on the currency union proves this, as does the proposal for a new Elysée treaty. Tactical moves will not save Britain from the essential decision over whether it really wants to belong to Europe, and be included in decision-making processes, or if it wants to leave this to the continent.
- Yet France under Balladur seems likely to veto additional powers for the European Parliament.
- I know that France, because of its own historical-political tradition, which is more presidential than parliamentary, has problems with granting the European Parliament more rights. This will indeed be a difficult point at the conference. But I am confident that we will find a common solution.
- How has the fuss over the paper changed your latest proposals?
- We found the reaction to our ideas rewarding. The longer the discussion went on, the more there was agreement with our ideas. There was unjustified, sometimes even silly, criticism, but there was also justified and constructive criticism.
A hard-core Europe remains on the agenda if it cannot be brought about by a thoroughgoing reform with all 15 members participating. It would come about at the earliest if one small group of countries were determined to embrace further integration, even if not everyone was ready for it. In the face of the variable development and inclinations of the 15 member states, a truly "root-and-branch" reform is unlikely. Therefore, those who are and ready must carry on regardless. This would mean a change to the Maastricht treaty. Should this not be possible, then it cannot be excluded that a core group would be formed alongside that treaty.
- What changes are you proposing in qualified majority voting, the national veto, the rotating presidency etc?
- Let us first take the Council: Here it will be necessary to extend majority voting to as many areas as possible, to prevent a blocking of the decision rea process by the use of the veto. Almost more important is the introduction of a double-qualified majority, ie to take account of the member states' strength of population. This opinion is shared by many states, even the smaller ones. A further proposal is that in planning the rotation of the presidency one of the bigger member states should always be in the troika.
As far as the Commission is concerned, we believe that the number of commissioners in the working areas of the Commission, about ten to 12, should be adjusted. Naturally the large countries will have to do without a second commissioner, and the smaller countries will have to be content with a kind of regional rotation. The Commission president should be able to put together his Commission from people suggested by the national governments, and should be truly responsible to Parliament.
- Would you retain the national veto over the appointment of the Commission president?
- Naturally the Commission president should be chosen by consensus. I am of the opinion, however, that this would also be possible under a system of majority voting, and would consider that a veto is not necessary.
Actually, the possibility of majority voting forces those involved towards a consensus. The possibility of a majority vote is like the threat of a guillotine. It exerts pressure in the direction of consensus, if those in dispute recognise that with the majority against them they could lose the decision.
- What about the role of Strasbourg?
- The European Parliament must be strengthened, but strengthening of the assembly's rights must depend on the level of majority voting within the Union. In any case, in our opinion, the European Parliament must be given more authority, in particular the same right of initiating legislation as the Council. It should have a limit of 650 members, and the method of election should be the same for all.
- Will there also be a hard-core common foreign policy?
- If we think back to Maastricht, the follow-up IGC was scheduled as early as 1996, to transfer those areas which Maastricht agreed would only be decided intergovernmentally into the integrated European Community structures as far as possible.
The Maastricht treaty, in which only the currency union was decided exactly and completely according to the integrated plan, is on weak ground because the remainder has not been decided in similar clear terms.
It is the task of the intergovernmental conference to complete this work of making the Common Foreign and Security Policy, for instance, a structure as effective as that for currency union. Without such an outcome, economic and currency union will be in danger in the long term.
Whoever unifies currency must take other decisions together. The economic and currency union will have considerable consequences for the economy, tax, and social policies of the member countries, and therefore affect all other policy areas. This means that foreign affairs policy will have to be commonly supported by the member states of the union.
* Karl Lamers is CDU/CSU foreign affairs spokesman in the Bundestag