Tribune leader, 21 May 1993

The yes vote in Tuesday’s Maastricht referendum in Denmark does not bring to an end the argument about European union. But it does radically change its terms.

Ratification of Maastricht throughout the European Community is now guaranteed. The question now is not whether European union takes place but what sort of European union is built on Maastricht’s foundations.

Of course, those foundations are shaky.

As Tribune has argued, there is plenty that is wrong in the treaty. Its provisions for political union are wholly inadequate: instead of massively increased powers to the European Parliament, it gives pride of place in the new Europe to intergovernmental bodies. In the wake of the exchange-rate chaos and Europe-wide recession brought on by German unification, just about everyone now accepts that the timetable and convergence criteria for economic and monetary union laid down by Maastricht are unrealistically tough.

Then there is the problem of Britain’s opt-out on the social chapter, which denies British workers the rights enjoyed by their colleagues elsewhere in the EC.
Nevertheless, the British left should be breathing a sigh of relief at the Danish vote. Had they voted no, not just Maastricht but the very possibility of European union would now be dead. We would now be looking forward to life on the periphery of Europe, as Germany, France and the Benelux countries went it alone with an economic and political union of their own.

That would have been a disaster for the prospects of developing the pan-European institutions capable of carrying out the Europe-wide strategies for growth that the slump-hit continent so desperately needs.

Of course, Maastricht does not create those institutions, let alone the political will for implementing a European recovery programme. Without the treaty, however, it would have been impossible to conceive of their construction.

The task now is for Labour to put Maastricht behind it and to develop a coherent European policy that focuses on what the party would like to see coming out of the next round of intergovernmental conferences on European union, scheduled for 1996.

If Labour is serious about the idea of alternative European economic strategies, it has to advocate a much bigger role and greater powers for EC executive bodies and if it does that, it must suggest ways of making these bodies democratically accountable.

The obvious solution is to embrace wholeheartedly the goal of a democratic federal Europe, in which the European Parliament has much the same function as a parliament in a decentralised federal nation state. Whether Labour has the confidence to bite the bullet is another matter entirely.

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