Recipe for a lifeless community

The lesson which the European Community's political leaders have drawn from the Danes' refusal to ratify the Maastricht Treaty is that the European Commission's interventions in the affairs of nation states have been taken too far. The regulatory tide from Brussels must be rolled back, and responsibility for policing some Community laws somehow handed back to the Member States. The inspirational rallying cries of this new political doctrine are "subsidiarity" and "repatriation".

A prospective victim of the subsidiarity axe is the EC's environmental policy. Pet hates such as the Directives which should have stopped Mr Delors' countrymen murdering wild birds by the million and have pretty well stopped the British water industry supplying contaminated drinking water would be among the leading candidates for the chop if some figures in the Commission, Paris and London had their way. There are good reasons for thinking that it will not come to that, but it is also clear that the future of the Community's environmental policy will be in a state of unprecedented uncertainty for at least the next 18 months as the Commission and the Council of Ministers work out what subsidiarity should mean in practice.

The Community's politicians could do worse than educate themselves about the impact of EC environmental legislation on the Danish consciousness before throwing out the green baby with the subsidiarity bathwater. What has irritated the Danes over the years is that Community laws on issues such as vehicle emissions, recycling of drinks containers and pesticides have threatened to undercut the high environmental standards to which they aspire or already benefit from. The Community laws in question were issued under the banner of harmonisation, another Euro-concept to inspire the masses.

The danger for the Community is that every time its leaders devise a creation such as the single market or a concept such as subsidiarity, the peoples of Europe will feel themselves less and less as members of a living community. Environmental policy, on the other hand, has been one of the Community's successes because it has secured improvements in the quality of life, and has done so by means of processes which national governments dislike but are visible to the public. So to conclude from the Danish referendum that the Community's role in improving environmental standards should be drastically scaled back would be to suck a little more life from the body which its founders intended it to be.

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