The former president of the European Commission will not stand for the French presidency next year. That’s bad news
The decision of Jacques Delors not to stand as the candidate of the left in next year's French presidential election has devastated his Socialist Party (PS) colleagues. They know that, without Delors as their candidate, it will take a miracle for the left to win. The PS fared disastrously in the 1992 general election and in the 1994 Euro-elections. Apart from Delors, it has no popular leader. The question now is whether there is any future for the party that as recently as 1988 won 260 out of 556 National Assembly seats.
By contrast, John Major is crowing. In the Commons on Monday to report back on the European Union summit in Essen, he appeared happier than at any time since sterling rumbled out of the exchange rate mechanism in September 1992. If there's no chance of Delors becoming French president, he believes, there's no chance of the 1996 intergovernmental conference on European integration coming up with federalist proposals that will split the Tory party. For Major, Delors' decision is the best piece of news he has had in a long time.
It is difficult, in the circumstances, not to share the French socialists' gloom. Although it is undoubtedly true, as Delors said in defence of his decision, that, as president, he would have faced the difficult task of dealing with an unremittingly hostile right-wing majority in the National Assembly, there is little doubt that he could have exercised significant influence. And, although it is true that Delors could not on his own solve the French left's crises of confidence and of ideology – they really are too profound for that – his presence in the Elysee Palace would at very least not have exacerbated them. Delors, with his emphasis on social solidarity and on the importance of the European project for the French left, comes as close as anyone to having a coherent conception of how his party can rescue itself from its current dire predicament.
But it is not just in domestic terms that his decision smacks of capitulation. On the European stage, Delors has, as president of the European Commission, been one of the most consistent advocates of a Europe that is not a free-trade area of competing nation-states but a democratic federal entity capable of acting to ensure common social and environmental standards and, crucially, economic growth.
In league with Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany, Delors as president of France would have formed a powerful alliance to push the 1996 IGC to agree both a massive expansion of the powers of the European Parliament (at the expense of the intergovernmental Council of Ministers and the unelected Commission) and an enhanced social and economic role for the EU. Instead, with a Gaullist in the Elysee, as seems inevitable, the balance of power at the IGC will be radically different – and far more favourable to the anti-federalism of Major.
Of course, it would be wrong to claim that the French Gaullists are quite as close to the British Tories as Major would like to think. On several key questions, Jacques Chirac and Edouard Balladur, the two Gaullists most likely to succeed, differ fundamentally from the British right. They want to keep the Common Agriculture Policy much as it is, and they would prefer the Western European Union rather than Nato to be the basis for security policy. Most important of all, they are both quite happy about the idea that a Franco-German alliance should be at the heart of Europe and are far more enthusiastic about a single currency than most Tories.
Nevertheless, Chirac and Balladur remain committed to the key Gaullist nostrum that national sovereignty should be paramount in Europe: neither is likely to back the democratisation of the EU's institutions, and the simultaneous strengthening of their powers to act, particularly on macroeconomic policy, that the continent so desperately needs.
The upshot, ironically, is that Europe's best hope lies with the Tory Eurosceptics in Britain – not because of what they think about Europe, but because of what they might do. A continued Eurosceptic rebellion can only hasten a general election – and the earlier the general election, the less likely the Tories are to win it. With Labour, or, better still, a centre-left coalition, in power in Britain, the chances of a democratic federalist outcome to the IGC would be improved dramatically. NSS wishes Teresa Gorman and company continued happiness in their independence for 1995.