CANNES SUMMIT: Britain told to put up or shut up

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The Independent Online
Hopes that the European Summit which opened yesterday, might produce new initiatives rapidly evaporated in the heat of the British political drama 1,000 miles away.

All eyes were on Jacques Chirac, the French President, and summit host, as the leader most likely to produce new impetus. However, early French efforts to solidify the timetable for monetary union and planning for EU reform looked certain to flounder. Decisions on a new crime-fighting body, job creation and transport networks appeared equally stalled.

Furthermore, there were growing fears that Britain's political instability could hold up most EU decision-making until after a British election. Showing impatience with London, officials from several member states last night warned that without clear decisions at Cannes, the EU could be faced with a backlog of half-formed policies. This could in turn delay decisions on the single biggest challenge facing the EU - preparing for new members from Eastern Europe.

In an apparent victory for Germany, EU foreign ministers were last night reported to have struck a deal on the balance of foreign aid spending between the Mediterranean region and eastern Europe. Germany had pushed hard for the balance in the EU's overseas spending to be clearly tilted towards the east. The figures represent a ratio of 59:41 in favour of eastern Europe, falling just short of the 60-40 ratio Bonn had pushed for.

Only two hours after the heads of state arrived at the Palais de Festivals, disappointment over a lack of progress was articulated by Klaus Hansch, President of the European Parliament. Calling, in effect, for Britain to put up or shut up over Europe, Mr Hansch said: "It will not do to have one domestic crisis in one country paralysing the whole union."

He added that at some point soon: "Britain will have to decide whether it basically wants to continue to belong to the legal unity that is Europe or not."

Earlier the European Commission issued a defensive call for the heads of state to "restate" their commitment to the agreed timetable for monetary union, amid a sense of fresh uncertainty about whether the programme set out in the Maastricht Treaty can hold up.

Jacques Santer, the Commission President, has urged political leaders to make a pledge at Cannes that the name of the currency and arrangements for its introduction should be agreed in six months time. British officials poured scorn on the likelihood of such a pledge.