Anger at hard-line stand on majority voting

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The Independent Online
SARAH HELM

Brussels

The White Paper on the European Union was greeted in Brussels as "entirely predictable", serving only to clarify once again Britain's hard line against further integration.

The European Commission, which had not expected Britain to propose any significant change in its functions, commented wearily that the Government had stuck to its well-known policy line on almost every front.

"It is much as we expected," one senior official said. "On all questions of sovereignty there is no movement. There is no to majority voting and no more competences for the European institutions."

The European Parliament, which might have hoped for some nod from Britain towards the building of European democracy, was angered by the lack of any positive proposals. The White Paper even accused the parliament of failing to use the new powers it was granted at Maastricht responsibly.

"This is an anodyne paper which does not address the concerns of the people of Europe," Wayne David, leader of the Labour group of MEPs, said. "All Britain's European partners will be seriously disappointed once again by the Government's apparent refusal to countenance any extension of qualified majority voting."

Britain has long been alone in opposing further reduction of the veto- power. Every other member state argues that the EU can only operate efficiently in future - especially after enlargement - if majority voting becomes the rule not the exception.

Germany, in particular, has argued for more majority voting, and has also been a strong supporter of giving more powers to the European Parliament. Helmut Kohl warned Britain in January that as the "slowest ship in the convoy" it could not hold others back.

However, Britain's refusal to grant more powers to the parliament will find some sympathy with the French, who believe that national parliaments must be given a greater say over European decision making.

As expected, Britain has insisted on maintaining its opt-out of the social chapter. In its blueprint for the Inter-Governmental Conference on European reform, the European Commission called for an end to "Europe la carte", and, like all member states, has called on Britain to join the social chapter. MEPs remarked angrily yesterday that while the White Paper insisted on maintaining the social opt out it made no proposals for job creation.

The White Paper's discussion of "flexible" decision-making procedures - or "variable geometry" - which would allow the EU to meet the diverse needs of different countries will be examined with interest within the European Commission and several member states.

Defence and foreign policies find some among the other main powers in agreement. The French have led calls for a senior figure to represent the European Union's joint foreign policy decisions, and yesterday's White Paper supported such an idea.

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