18 JUNE 1994, Page 13


Boris Johnson explains why the fight to succeed Jacques Delors has suddenly become rather dirty

THE BATTLE to succeed M. Jacques Delors starts in earnest over the baklava and coffee at about 9.30 p.m. on Friday 24 June, when heads of state and government meet for dinner at the Corfu EC summit. Assuming he has not already subsided into the soup, the negotiation will be led by Mr Andreas Papandreou, the Greek Prime Minister.

It promises to be a grisly occasion, since opinions differ as to what or whom Europe needs at the helm at this turning-point in its story. No one, though, disputes the importance of the office. In the person of M. Delors, the President of the EC Com- mission has ranked no less high than the grandest European heads of state. Whoev- er succeeds M. Delors must see the Community through the next intergovern- mental conference in 1996, and will have a central role in determining whether or not there is a single currency by the end of the decade. It is a recognition of the post's bloated status that no less than two serving prime ministers have allowed their names to go forward, for the first time in history; and indeed will be glowering at each other across the same table at Corfu.

In the Federalist corner, wearing the 12- star shorts, is M. Jean-Luc Dehaene (pro- nounced not to rhyme with pain, as some have suggested, but Deharner), the Bel- gian Prime Minister. In the Slightly Less Federalist Corner is Mr Ruud Lubbers, his Dutch counterpart. Watching and hoping for a simultaneous mutual prime ministeri- al knock-out is Sir Leon Brittan, Basically Federalist But At Least He's Ours. This election is the most distilled form of Euro- combat. The 'issues' are bleached away to reveal the real stuff of Brussels politics: character conflict and national resentment. It is intrigue stirred and thickened to the nth degree, and what follows can only be a preliminary analysis of the negotiations now setting the European telephonic ether humming. As one participant said to me, `You can't believe anything anybody says.'

Until about three months ago, Lubbers seemed unstoppable. Formally, of course, London will have nothing but Sir Leon. Most EC diplomats, though, think his can- didacy is a bit like the British Govern- ment's proposal for a 'hard ecu' as an alternative to the single currency: noble, unimpeachably the best option, a splendid excuse for British ministers and officials not to engage in the real controversy, so avoiding difficulties at home; and, of course, doomed. Roy Jenkins was too recent, and, in the current political cli- mate, the others will never accept a Briton. Privately, Mr Major has long been letting it be known that he could support the Dutchman, an erstwhile ally of Lady Thatcher, who liked his craggy, bluish chin and keen intellect.

It was Holland's 'turn' to fill the post, or at least the turn of a small country; and of a Christian Democract, not a Socialist. After ten years at the top of Dutch poli- tics, and as one of the few European lead- ers to have largely preserved his popularity, his installation was seen as a formality; which shows that one should never underestimate the malign influence of France in Europe, and M. Mitterrand's sulphurous resentment of Mr Major's greatest — and only — EC triumph, the

opt-out from the Social Chapter, brokered by Lubbers. Poison was dripped into Ger- man ears.

This was the same Lubbers, Mitterrand's people reminded Kohl's people, who had publicly quoted Mauriac at the time of uni- fication: 'I love Germany so much I am glad there are two of them'; who had the gall to quibble when Herr Kohl for so many months refused to rule out changes to the German border with Poland. Lub- bers, moreover, had always been the most militant opponent of the Franco-German axis running the Community. He has voiced the anger of the small countries at the memoranda that are jointly cooked up by Paris and Bonn in advance of important summits, the imperious letters announcing that we the undersigned, Helmut and Francois, have decided to create a Euro- army/Euro-currency/Euro-Foreign Office, and we trust that the rest of you will be able to follow suit.

Perhaps it was not surprising, then, that Lubbers should become a victim of the axis, especially since he failed for many months to declare that he was a candidate. `Lubbers played his cards consummately badly,' says a source. When it emerged that France and Germany had settled on Dehaene, he was furious. Suddenly Britain — still officially plugging the losing cause of Sir Leon — was the only country with the clout to save him.

po, Why, you might ask, should Mr Major bother? Why should he put his head on the line in Europe so soon after the deba- cle over qualified majority voting, and risk the same gruesome outcome? Might it not be better to pretend, as indeed the Gov- ernment appears to be doing, that Lubbers v. Dehaene is a non-issue?

It is true that these men are both Chris- tian Democrat prime ministers, both with a paper commitment to federalism. And yet I think, hand on heart, that there are distinctions between them of material importance to Britain. Strengthened by his less than wholly disastrous performance in the Euro-elections, it seems to me that Mr Major could hang tough.

I acknowledge that it is difficult to por- tray M. Dehaene, a psychiatrist's son from Bruges, in a way that truly freezes the mar- row. Perhaps the most chilling fact I can offer is that he was once president of the Federation of Belgian Boy Scouts. Anyone who has seen the numerous Belgian scout- masters out to do good deeds with their charges on a Saturday morning, with hairy legs and shorts, will know what kind of efficiency he embodies. 'He has very low charisma,' concedes one of his most ardent Flemish backers. 'He is afflicted by embon- point.'

Lubbers, moreover, outscores Dehaene in every aspect of EC policy where Britain has reason to be seriously concerned. Looking ahead to Son of Maastricht in 1996, Lubbers is the sounder on the need to preserve the Nato alliance and Ameri- can involvement in Europe; he would be more rigorous in applying the convergence criteria before any monetary union; Lub- bers would be the more likely to encour- age free trade and to cut back on waste and fraud within the Common Agricultural Policy.

Now, there is no point in raging at the Government to do something it is plainly not about to do. We know, they know, they know we know, that Mr Major and Mr Hurd are congenitally wet in the exercise of Britain's sovereign powers. I thought I might as well try it, anyway. Will Mr Major veto M. Dehaene over dinner at Corfu? `What peculiar questions you ask,' replied a source close to Mr Hurd, laughing light- ly.

There is one hope. Quite losing his nor- mal cool, Lubbers has told Dutch newspa- pers he will veto any candidate but himself. That raises the intriguing possibility that the two Benelux titans could incapacitate each other in a kind of Mexican stand-off. Dinner would be ruined. The white smoke could not go up at Corfu. Other candidates would have to come forward at an emer- gency meeting of foreign ministers. Is it possible that Sir Leon could, after all, come steaming through the middle, and snatch an interception try?

Boris Johnson writes for the Daily Telegraph.