Chancellor Helmut Kohl mounted a full-force defense of the troubled Maastricht Treaty on Friday, warning members of Germany's Parliament that quick ratification is vital to preserve peace and prosperity on the Continent.
"The end of the Cold War and communism does not in any way mean that we now need to be less watchful," Kohl told the Bundestag, Parliament's lower house, urging deputies to approve the treaty by year's end. "The war in former Yugoslavia alone is a first warning for us all. It is true that risks and imponderability for all of Europe can arise from the situation and developments in Eastern and Southern Europe.
"We can only cope with that together."
The Bundesrat, Parliament's upper house, began the Maastricht ratification process Friday. The Bundestag is scheduled to start debating the treaty Oct. 8. Both houses must approve it. The treaty will not be put to a popular vote in Germany, where the constitution forbids referendums.
Kohl, a chief architect of the treaty on European unity, held fast to the original agreement, despite growing calls for a two-track union that would move some countries faster than others toward the goal of closer political, economic and monetary union.
Arriving in Brussels later Friday for a meeting of European Christian Democrats, Kohl was specifically asked whether the European Community is now headed for a two-speed union.
"No," the German leader said with a smile, "how do you get that idea?" He declined to comment further.
But Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene, attending the same meeting, said a two-speed Europe "is one of the directions we have to think about." Belgium is one of the countries--along with the Netherlands, Luxembourg and probably France--that would almost surely be in the fast lane, sharing a currency with Germany.
In Bonn, Kohl reiterated assurances that the treaty will not sacrifice national identities.
"We remain firmly rooted in our home regions," Kohl said. "We remain Germans, Italians and French--and at the same time we are Europeans.
"Germany is our fatherland," he told the Bundestag, "Europe is our future!"
On the heels of a hasty meeting with French President Francois Mitterrand in Paris on Tuesday to discuss France's narrow approval of the treaty in last Sunday's referendum, Kohl also lent his support to the French franc, defending the currency against speculators trying to force it down.
"I would like to stress that tensions within the European Monetary System are not a reason to question the system itself," Kohl said, adding that recent turbulence in the currency markets "impressively confirms" the need for the political and monetary union outlined in Maastricht.
Kohl said all Europeans must realize that "everything which we have achieved economically up until now can only be preserved in the long run if we also safeguard it politically: An economic union is only viable if it can be propped up by a political union." The chancellor said he saw "no need to readjust the exchange rate between the French franc and the mark because France has achieved convincing successes in its stability policies."
As Kohl spoke, the Franco-German strategy for defending the value of the franc appeared to be working. The French currency, which had been near its minimum permissible value against the German mark until Wednesday, traded Friday at its highest levels in six weeks.
The French and German central banks have been buying francs on international currency markets since announcing Wednesday that they would join forces to battle speculative pressure against the franc. In the same announcement, France raised a key short-term interest rate by 2.5 percentage points.
Kohl defended Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank, against foreign criticism, noting "how difficult" its task has been. "The events of the past few weeks were not the result of the German policy of economic stability," he said. "To the contrary, the policy of economic stability is the foundation of trust in the currency market and for well-ordered currency relationships."
Meanwhile, a member of the Bundesbank's policy-making council said Friday that the treaty does not have "even the slightest chance" of being fulfilled by the end of the century.
Wilhelm Noelling, president of the central bank in Hamburg, told German radio that the timetable needs to be changed. "We have so far had a five- or six-speed Europe," he said, referring to the Continent's differing economic growth rates.
Havemann reported from Brussels and Jones from Bonn.