London, 13 December 1996 (RFE/RL) -- EU leaders are meeting in Dublin for a two-day summit to discuss a draft treaty on political and economic union that is expected to shape Europe's destiny into the next century.
The draft treaty -- seen as an important staging post in the process begun by the Maastricht declarations -- sets out a series of measures aimed at bringing about the closer integration of the EU countries. The summit will not be asked to make a final decision on the treaty. This will not come until the next EU summit in Amsterdam in June.
A commentator in the "Guardian" newspaper said today the central question facing the Dublin summit is whether and how far to match moves towards monetary union with new steps towards political union.
The treaty has won broad agreement from EU members (although they disagree among themselves on details). But it is resisted by Britain which again finds itself out of step with its 14 EU partners because of its opposition to any further transfer of power to European institutions.
Before leaving for Dublin, Prime Minister John Major spelled out his determination to block any further moves towards deeper political integration or the pooling of more sovereignty within the EU.
However, before the treaty comes up for final approval next June, Major may find himself out of office. In the run-up to general elections which must be held by next May, he is running a long way behind Labour Party leader Tony Blair who is seen as more pro-European.
The draft treaty has five principal areas for discussion: border controls, jobs and social policy, foreign and defense policy, institutional reform, and the right to a national veto.
A prime treaty aim is to fulfill a 40-year-old dream of complete freedom of movement for Europeans within a common border. This would involve abolition of internal frontiers. Britain is expected to insist on opting out by retaining its own national border controls.
Most EU governments want to see a bigger role for the EU in immigration and asylum policy and the fight against crime. Denmark, and to a lesser extent, France, shares Britain's reservations about a transfer of decision-making, and loss of sovereignty, in these areas.
The treaty seeks to incorporate the aim of "a high level of employment" for EU citizens. It calls on its member countries to coordinate employment policies with a new committee in Brussels to issue guidelines. Britain objects, saying this could lead to the extension of social policies that would make Europe less globally competitive.
The treaty proposes new machinery for strengthening the EU's foreign and security policy. Responsibility for foreign policy initiatives would in future lie with a new Brussels-based unit (linking the Council of Ministers and the Commission) rather than national capitals.
Germany and France believe that the goal of a common European defense policy, agreed at Maastricht, should convert now into a phased integration of the Western European Union -- Europe's nominal defense arm -- into the EU. But neutral Sweden and Austria object.
On institutional reform, there is a consensus -- with the exception of Britain -- that majority voting must become the rule as the EU expands. On the veto issue, Germany and France argue for closer cooperation between states without such moves being blocked by a veto from a state refusing to take part. Britain opposes any erosion of the right to veto.
Commentators say the British intransigence may hasten the emergence of a "core Europe" -- an inner group of states led by Germany and France -- ready to push ahead of the others.