EU piles the pressure on Britain

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The Independent Online
Pressure intensified on Britain last night in the BSE dispute when the leaders of five countries, led by Helmut Kohl of Germany, urged John Major to abandon the disruption of European Union business.

Meeting in Brussels to prepare for the Florence summit, leaders of Germany, Spain, Belgium, Ireland and Luxembourg urged London to bring its non-cooperation policy to "an immediate end" and said it must take all necessary steps to win back consumer confidence in beef before the EU can lift its ban.

The Government faces its biggest defeat yet in the dispute as chances of securing a framework settlement before the summit diminished yesterday. British diplomats were putting the chances of securing such a framework before Florence at "only 50-50".

John Major has urged EU member-states to agree a framework before the meeting, which starts in 10 days, in return for an end to Britain's policy of disruption.

Meetings to negotiate the deal take place in Brussels on Friday and in Rome on Monday. Without a framework, the summit could be undermined by the British veto.

On the face of it, the British proposals are uncontroversial. The idea is to secure an agreement in principle for a 10-step phased lifting of the ban. There is no proposed timetable and each element of the ban would be lifted on the basis of a European Commission proposal, based on scientific advice.

However, in the framework document, Britain is also seeking to bind member- states to agree in advance not to block future decisions to lift elements of the ban. Under procedures applied to lifting the ban on gelatine, tallow and semen, it was the Commission which decided to make a proposal to ease it, based on scientific evidence. But the proposal failed to win a qualified majority vote in the EU's standing veterinary committee or in the agriculture ministers' council. In the end, the Commission had to implement the measure unilaterally under EU procedures.

Since then, it has indicated it would not act again without the political support of member states.