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Friday, 8 December, 2000, 16:28 GMT
Enhanced cooperation
EU Parliament in Brussels
EU Parliament in Brussels
By the World at One's Gillian Hargreaves

Enhanced cooperation is the new big idea doing the rounds in Europe. At least eight member states have to band together to form their own policies.

Other countries could join later if they wished, but the decisions made cannot be contrary to any of the treaties already enshrined in law.

At the Nice summit ministers are hoping to extend the potential of enhanced cooperation. The single currency is one example but the environment could be another.

Stalemate

At the global environment conference at the Hague two weeks ago discussions ended in stalemate and acrimonious name calling.

But environmentalists now see enhanced cooperation as a way to get more modest agreements among smaller groups of countries.

Greenpeace's Dan Pearson, believes small groups of member states of the EU might forge ahead on GM crop policy, carbon dioxide emissions and nuclear reprocessing.

Solution

Mindful of the risks of flood and rising seas the Dutch Europe minister, Dick Benschap ,thinks his country might have to forge ahead with enhanced cooperation to get policies implemented which might prevent global warming.

Conservative German MEP, Elmar Brok
Conservative German MEP, Elmar Brok
The British government is relaxed about this new bit of Brussels theory saying it will provide more flexibility in an enlarged Europe.

And Elmar Brok, the conservative German MEP, thinks there is no danger of an avant garde led by France and Germany or a multispeed Europe where countries are left behind.

Misgivings

But the liberal democrat MEP Nick Clegg points out that the European community was founded on consensus and enhanced cooperation might be the first crack in the edifice.

And his colleague from the Socialist group, the MEP Michael Van Heulten, thinks it might be used as a bribe to threaten those countries who use their national veto to block policy.

At the moment, enhanced cooperation is only used in limited areas, the single currency and the schengen border agreement , but if people like Nick Clegg are right - it could lead to a fractured and multispeed Europe.

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