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Delors Jacques - 20 luglio 1991
The EC's very own visionary

ABSTRACT: Jacques Delors, president of the European Commission, speaks to David Buchan.

(Financial Times, monday, july XX, 1991)

Nothing frustrates a workaholic more than the summer wind-down of business in Europe.

The frustration is all the greater when you are Mr. Jaques Delors, and you feel that the historic moment to become a world power may be slipping past the European Community, as ministers turn in circles on political and monetary union and fails to rise properly to foreign policy challengers.

Not that such mundane concerns dim has ultimate vision for Europe. "When I look at the long term trend (of EC developments), it is fantastic", he said, settling back in his executive jet on a recent flight to Portugal. This is just what you would expect from the man who has become the most successful president of the European Commission, who set the single market for 340m people in train, who launched the drive to monetary union that in turn has led to a much wider negotiation on political union. The personal pay-off for Mr. Delors has been a steady rise in opinion polls in France, placing him ever better for a run at the Elysee in 1995.

The Commission president has a heavy summer's work ahead. After four or five days' rest in his Burgundy house, he says that he will attack first the increasingly burning question of immigration and than start reading himself into the history of central Europe, the better to see whether the EC should take in new members from that region. This fanatical believer in European self-improvement devours dossiers the way Arnold Schwarzenegger pumps iron.

Gone is the gloomy silence into which Mr. Delors was plunged earlier this year by the virtual irrelevance of the EC during the Gulf war. Those events got the inter-governmental conference (IGC) on political union off to an argumentative start, especially concerning whether the EC should have a common defence policy. "I thought the very divisive question of defence would have stopped the rest (of the IGC work)," he says. "But this has not been the case".

But progress is maddeningly slow. The Twelve's negotiators on political union may meet weekly, those on economic and monetary union (Emu) fortnightly. But forward movement depends on ministers breaking the various deadlocks at their monthly meetings. And this is precisely what they don't do, Mr. Delors says. He is particularly critical on finance ministers who he says are "fed up with Europe" and are threatening an interminable transition to Emu. "If the transition is too long, there never will be a single money - that's my bet." But foreign ministers also draw Mr.Delors's ire. Using Milan Kundera's phrase, he complains of "their unbearable lightness of being" in failing for the past six months to embark on any serious negotiation of their many differences on political union.

If Mr.Delors ends up appealing over the minister's heads to their bosses, it will not be the first time. He can count on traditional backing from the leaders of the Benelux (one of which, Mr.Ruud Lubbers of the Netherlands, would like to succeed him), and of Italy. He has a personal rapport with Mr.Helmut Kohl and Mr.Felipe Gonzales,l but a deeply complicated relationship with Mr.François Mitterrand.

Ties are more distant with the other five leaders, and governed by special factors in two cases. Greece is suspicious of the way the Commission has stepped into "nanny" its economy. Mr.Delors admires the way Mr.John Major handles himself politically, but is aware that hopes of warmer relations with Downing Street depend on vagaries of Britain's Euro-debate.

Oddly, as Mr.Delors's international stature grows, so has his difficulty in getting the support of his 16 Commission colleagues on the more routine matters that come before the EC executive. Out of town for two or three days a week, he now no longer has the time to line up backers within "the college" of commissioners that others, notably the assiduous Sir Leon Brittan, have. Mr.Delors complains colleagues never return the concessions he makes to them. Sometimes after a meeting with a fellow commissioner he says he feels "like smashing a couple of vases against the wall".

Would he cut back his international profile so as to devote more time to oiling the Brussels machine? Clearly not. His big ambition is to see Europe taking on the new world role cast for it by the end of the cold war. Before 1988-89, he says, it was easy enough. "Europe was protected against the communist baddies by the American white knight and his nuclear umbrella - France played the flirt, Britain the disciplined one, Germany the discreet one. All that is gone. Europe est maintenant face à son destin."

It is high time for the EC to grow up, he says. "We are like a 18 year-old put at the door by Papa - we have got to pick up our suitcase, find a job, a place to live, a girl-friend and so on." If, on the other hand, Europe still behaves "as though it has a protector or an insurance contract, then this will signal its absolute historical decline". Yugoslavia is important here. America, though mighty after its Gulf victory, has left Brussels to make at the running in mediation, and Mr.Delors considers it the EC's collective "duty" to get as involved in finding peace in Yugoslavia as the US is in the Middle East.

This world challenge is, to Mr.Delors, the "fascinating characteristic" of today. Set against the EC's future potential, the separate national hang-ups of its members are just echos of the past. Harping on such totems as "the nation state, the role of the Queen, la France universelle, 1789" is, he says, "ridiculous, when we are on the verge of an historic period. Those (EC founding fathers) who preceded us thought of this. Are we capable of using them? Yes or no? Voilà!"

All this thinking big has affected Mr.Delors's views on EC enlargement. He was once a staunch opponent of "widening" the EC to take in new members until it had been "deepened" by further integration. Last week the Commission gave Austrian membership a favourable nod.

Mr.Delors still thinks it is premature for applicants such as Austria and Sweden to want to jump into a marriage contract now, "before they know what sort of (EC) fiancée will emerge from Maastricht", where the IGCs are due to wrap up with a political and monetary union treaty in December. But he says his views have changed since 1988-89. The Community has to decide "whether it wants to stay a settled rich men's club, or to become an entity which exercises an influence in the world". It is, he says, "our responsibility to organize Europe", even if perhaps that means one day taking in the central European states, whose ungrateful leaders, in Mr.Delors's view, consistently underrate what the EC has already done for them.

In arriving this autumn at a stance of enlargement, Mr.Delors says he intends to reread "the History of Mitteleuropa back to the start of this century". In preparing his 1989 Bruges speech - a response to Mrs.Margaret Thatcher's paean to the nation state a year earlier - he claims to have trekked through 10,000 pages of European history, from the fourth to the 19th century. The defined model of modern Europe, for Mr.Delors, is that created by Keynes and Beveridge, giving an influential economic and social role to government. In this, one can see the intellectual seeds that sprouted into the Social Charter.

But it is industrial, rather than social, policy that agitates him these days. "Whatever some may say, I say long live Eurochampions!" he retorts to those who disparage attempts by Brussels to nurture worldbeating industries. "One simply cannot have 90 per cent of European companies owned by Americans, Japanese and Swedes." He says he is not advocating pouring cash into companies, but an industrial policy that relies on "promotional standards", like that promulgated by Brussels for high definition television, on training and on R&D that encourages more co-operation by companies downstream, nearer the market-place. These are the policies which he says he would prescribe to all sectors coming to Brussels for help."Those who reject this are either super-rightwing ideologues or they have national aims, he says. For him, competitiveness rather than competition policy is clearly the key word, and he would like it written firmly into the new EC treaty.

As it happens - Mr.Delors insists he has never taken instructions from Paris - these views on industrial policy coincide with mainstream opinion in France. Mr.Delors would like to finish his current term in Brussels at the end of 1992; indeed he is already reckoning that he will have to spend most of the second half of next year (with Britain holding the EC presidency) dealing with enlargement.

What then? He is unlikely to refuse a second offer to be prime-minister of France. In 1983 Mr.Mitterrand offered him the job, but Mr.Delors sayd he would only take it if he could also continue to direct the Trésor (external monetary policy) - a condition that Mr.Mitterrand baulked at. If the Matignon offer does not come his way again, Mr.Delors would not mind being asked to stay two more years in Brussels. Either way, he would keep his options open for a presidential bid in 1995.

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