Britain paves way for accord at EC summit in Edinburgh

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The Independent Online
AS JOHN MAJOR prepares to chair one of the toughest international meetings of his career, it was clear yesterday that despite signs of progress on the two most difficult questions facing the Edinburgh summit - Denmark and the EC's future finances - a consensus on either will be difficult to forge.

The Christian Democrat leaders of Greece, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany signalled how tough negotiations are going to be when they announced at a pre-summit meeting in Brussels last night that many of the British ideas for solving the Danish problem were unacceptable.

The Belgian former prime minister Wilfried Martens, speaking for the five, said there was concern that in trying to meet Denmark's insistence that it should not have to participate in the creation of a single currency, the British proposals risked turning the Maastricht treaty into little more than an inter-governmental agreement. 'This goes against the spirit of what we are trying to do,' he said.

Earlier in the day Francois Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl declared at the end of their Franco-German summit that they had formed a united negotiating front. 'It is an important signal to all of Europe that France and Germany will move forward, regardless of the many difficulties,' Chancellor Kohl said. Most important, French concerns over the recent world trade deal will not be allowed to sour the summit.

Whitehall sources suggest that Mr Major's diplomatic tour of European capitals this week has brought some dividends, while the British suggestions for solving the Danish problem have met with a cautious welcome.

Although Danish opposition politicians, whose support is crucial, have been less enthusiastic, because the British proposals clarify rather than alter the Maastricht treaty, there is a consensus in Brussels, as in Copenhagen, that they are a step in the right direction.

Denmark's Foreign Minister, Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, said a meeting of parliament's EC committee agreed that the British plan satisfied the crucial Danish demand for a legally binding deal.

To bolster their proposals for solving the Danish problem, the British have also informally suggested a list of EC laws that might usefully be dropped in the interests of making Community politics more relevant to the 340 million people they are supposed to serve.

The Danes, in voting down the Maastricht treaty, made clear that the concept of subsidiarity - devolving decision-making to the most appropriate level - must be given flesh and bones.

In response, Britain, adding its suggestions to proposals already tabled by the EC Commission, has drawn up a specific list of measures it believes could usefully be scrapped or amended. They include EC efforts to standardise drink- driving tests and technical legislation on company law and data protection.