Jacques Delors, President of the European Commission
'Without confidence, people can never work together for any
Jacques Delors, erstwhile Minister of Economic Affairs, Finance
and the Budget in the French Government, former professor at the University of
Paris Dauphine and an ex-Member of the European Parliament. has been President
of the Commission of the European communities since January 1985.
For nearly ten years now President Delors has been active as one
of the architects of the abolition of the Community's internal frontiers, the
resumption of the social dialogue. the establishment of the integrated
Mediterranean programmes. the accession of Spain and Portugal. the adoption of
the Single European Act. the coordination of aid to Eastern Europe, the
negotiations on the Uruguay Round, the creation of the European Economic Area,
the drafting, negotiation and putting into effect of the Maastricht Treaty, the
adoption of the White Paper on 'Growth, Competitiveness and Employment' and,
lastly, the negotiations on admitting four new Member States to the Community.
It was also during his presidency that the European flag was adopted by the
community institutions and flown for the first time - a highly symbolic act - in
Brussels on 29 May 1986.
As the Treaty on European Union comes into effect. The Courier
also felt the time was ripe to ask President Delors about his policies in the
economic. social and institutional fields and his ideas on international and
· How would you sum up your
achievements as President of the European Commission?
- This is early days to be talking about summing up. I still
have eight months to serve at the head of the Commission, and you can rest
assured that I still have a great many plans, and I have no intention whatsoever
of slowing down on the work! On the contrary - I don't only want to leave the
place in proper working order for my successor, I also want to popularise some
new ideas and, most of all, push ahead with a number of major projects.
What are these major projects?
- As 1 see it there are four of them, which is already an
impressive total. First, there's the European economy. where momentum has been
lost, competitiveness has taken a knock and there has been a dramatic surge in
unemployment. Next comes organising the wider Europe, expanding to take in new
members, though that isn't all. Then we come to striking a new balance in our
relations with the countries of the South - and ´'m not just saying that
because I'm talking to you, I've always been a proponent of that idea Lastly, we
need to make Europe's institutions stronger, because without strong institutions
high-minded aspirations seldom turn into practical action.
Can we look at each of these priorities in turn 7 Starting with
unemployment - what can the European Commission do?
To start with, it can get people talking. The Commission is less
at the mercy of short-term political deadlines than governments are, which means
it can afford to stand back a bit and say things which may upset people. That's
what happened with the Commission's White Paper which the heads of state and
government adopted last December.
What is the basic issue here 7 It's a matter of whether there is
a peculiarly European disease of unemployment, which would explain why, for
example, Europe creates fewer jobs for the same amount of growth than the United
States and Japanese economies. Is Europe too rigid, is it growing too old. is it
doomed to decline in a rapidly changing world? The White Paper was an attempt to
answer these questions and suggest some avenues for reform.
· How far have we got towards
putting it into effect 7
- In June the heads of state and government will be launching a
first batch of ten major works projects involving trans-European infrastructure
networks. These networks are vital for company competitiveness. regional
development and links with Central and Eastern Europe. We're also making
progress on the matter of the 'information society', in other words fusing data
processing and traditional communications technology. which can have highly
practical consequences when it comes to the way work is organised and our
societies are structured.
Lastly - and this may be the nub of the matter - the White Paper
prompts each of the Member States to think hard about its own employment and
training policy and learn from what works for its neighbours. There's no miracle
cure, make no mistake, but we do need new ideas and cooperation. What isn't
acceptable is that, out of selfishness or because it's an easy answer, as the
years go by we should get used to the idea of part of Europe's workforce being
'sidelined', either being sent into early retirement, so-called, or struck off
the unemployment lists in return for guaranteed social security assistance.
And then we mustn't forget that unemployment isn't just the sum
total of individual hardships. Unemployment saps the confidence of whole
nations, and without that confidence people can never work together for any
When you say working for a common cause, you mean building
Europe, and more and more countries want to get involved in that But aren't you
afraid that enlargement without consolidation may undermine the whole
undertaking from inside?
- You're right, that is a question we have to ask. I have just
two things to say about that. First, to hear people talk about the European
Union these days, all is doom and gloom. Yet there are lots of countries
knocking on the door. which shows that it isn't all going so badly. And you
mustn't think the only thing that spurs these countries on is the material
aspects of joining Europe, which is a thing we hear too often. Look at the
central and eastern European countries The reason why they want to join isn't
just that they see it as support for. and the culmination of. the work they have
done to transform their economies. It's also, in fact more than anything else.
that they need security and want to chase away those 'false prophets' rejection
of others, glorification of the ethnic group, the confusion of religion and
politics, and so on. It's all these evil notions which lie at the heart of the
tragedy in Yugoslavia, and threaten the whole of eastern Europe and part of the
former Soviet Union It's a very contagious illness, in fact it's the post-Cold
War disease, and none of us can feel safe from it. So if I had to cite just one
success of European integration, it would be peace and mutual understanding
between peoples, the fact that we have been able to overcome historic rivalries
and hatred between neighbours through a common undertaking in which everyone,
however small, has a say. And undertakings like that aren't two a penny worries
me about the way the negotiations on admitting Sweden, Norway, Finland and
Austria were concluded is that no one dared to raise the questions of how
effective, simple or easily understandable the Community institutions would be -
as though it were a taboo subject. But you can't load the ship higher without
strengthening a few of the planks, without firming up the framework here and
there Anyway I have always fought. and I will go on fighting as an 'activist for
Europe' once my term of office ends. to get that taboo lifted and make people
look those questions in the eye. After all, look at all the experiments there
have been with trying to bring nations closer together and lay down rules
collectively: the only ones which work - and you can count them on the fingers
of one hand, alas - are the ones which have strong and effective institutions.
That is a vital bequest from the 'founding fathers' of Europe and we must hold
on to it.
· A moment ago you talked about
striking a new balance between East and South Does that mean you think the
countries south of Europe have been overlooked in recent years?
- I'm very familiar with that criticism, as I hear it regularly
whenever I receive leaders from the Maghreb or ACP countries.
But it isn't so easy to follow when you look at the figures for
each country Leaving aside the bilateral aid from each of the Member States, in
1994 the European Union is putting about FCU 4 billion into development
cooperation. All the five year allocations have gone up considerably compared
with the preceding period, and that goes for the ACP countries, the Maghreb,
Asia and Latin America. So when people talk to me about the South being
neglected, I point out that our operations to help the ACP countries come to 38%
of all external operations by the Union over the past five years.
There is real concern, though. I think it's largely a matter of
perception, due to the fact that at the end of 1989, for example. the Community
reacted to requests from Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia very quickly, while
the negotiations over LomV were going ahead laboriously, or because
instruments which used to be reserved just for the developing countries have
been extended to Eastern Europe. But the actual figures belie the idea that the
South has slipped to second place in our list of priorities.
What seems most important of all to me is that now people are
talking about effectiveness of aid as much as about the total amount, and about
opening up to trade as much as about assistance.
What do you think, in fact, about the changes the Union proposes
should be made to the Lomonvention?
To begin with. I'm very glad that there's to go on being a
special Lomrrangement. It's worth reminding people that such a broad palette
of instruments, set in a contractual framework involving so many countries. has
no counterpart in any other cooperation policy In fact it's certainly the most
structured and ambitious of all international cooperation agreements, and the
whole thing is to be preserved in its entirety. The point of the changes the
Commission wanted to see made to it, at the suggestion of Vice President Marin,
is to bring Lomp to date, because the Convention is showing its age in some
respects and the whole framework could collapse if the necessary adjustments
aren't made in good time. I'm talking here about greater flexibility in
planning; stepping up action to promote sustainable development, support
institutional reforms and encourage the private sector; and reforming procedures
so as to make the decision making process less cumbersome and shorten
implementation times. I have given my backing to these proposals but at the same
time made sure that the partnership principle won't be called into question. I
have also proposed setting up genuine dialogue between the European Union and
the ACP countries on matters of common concern: Rwanda and Somalia, of course,
but also Bosnia or United Nations reform. It was time we moved on from just
talking about managing the instruments set up by the Convention.
· Do you subscribe to the
currently fashionable Afro-pessimism?
I'm glad to say I see lots of reasons to be hopeful. Firstly, I
think we are getting over our old ideological quarrels and reaching a sort of
new consensus on the policies we should be following: to put it briefly, that
means setting up a stable economic framework with consensus backing; pursuing a
policy which is open to the outside but redistributes resources internally;
rejigging structural adjustment policies so as to limit their adverse effects on
the least privileged sectors of the population but also safeguard the future by
taking care not to sacrifice the vital sectors, education and health, on the
altar of short-term expediency; liberalising economies and promoting democracy
in tandem, while taking account of the distinctive conditions in Africa;
reforming the structures of government and the administration, while at the same
time relying on new operators - firms, local communities, families and,
especially, women; and going for 'sustainable development', with all that
implies in terms of paying attention to demographic and environmental balance.
To be more specific, I would point to two developments which I
have been following closely and which I think are moves in the right direction.
The first is the growing interest being shown in questions of education I chair
a UNESCO committee on this - it's been a keen interest of mine for years - and
at a meeting in Dakar I was pleasantly surprised not just to hear people talking
in ways which were much fresher than what I was used to hearing. but to hear
very practical accounts of experiments in the field which had worked because
everyone in a village had been involved - incidentally, it was practically
always women who were the driving force It was a great comfort to hear that, I
can tell you.
The other development is regional integration. which is making
progress particularly in Africa in the aftermath of the devaluation of the CFA
franc. I see it as a sort of European integration back to front, where you start
with a single currency, the CFA franc, and move on to setting up a regional
financial area and then an African internal market Developing genuine internal
markets within regions is. l think. the essential middle stage on the way to
getting access to the world market. The European Union has thrown itself
wholeheartedly into that process, since it has some experience of it And the
approach needs to be extended to other regions of Africa, and to the Caribbean
and the Pacific
A so you're not an 'Afro-pessimist'. But to end our talk by
getting back to Europe, are you a 'Euro-optimist' for the future?
- I he European Union is going through a crisis, there's no
doubt about that: the economic recession, which luckily is showing signs of
being over, makes it difficult for us to feel comfortable as a group of twelve
when every Member State is weakened; the rifts tearing Yugoslavia apart impact
on public opinion and simply leave an impression of impotence and
procrastination; the differences between the Member States over their concept of
European integration, particularly as regards how far it should be allowed to
go, are still sharp. But I think it is a crisis of growth, like many others the
Union has been through since it was set up 38 years ago, and from which it has
always emerged unscathed in the end.
What has changed - and this is the real sign of maturity is that
with the discussions about ratifying the Maastricht Treaty in various countries,
public opinion has made itself heard in what has tended to be an
over-technocratic exercise. From now on we will have to take the public into
account, explain things, ask them for their support which is obviously a very
good thing, even if it makes matters more difficult. And let me say again, when
we talk about European integration. we must get back to a number of 'basics'
without which we forget the main objective: rejecting decline. uniting nations
and peoples and working for peace and mutual