The new government's "fresh start" on Europe was welcomed at the first meeting between Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and EU colleagues in The Hague yesterday but Germany made it clear it now wants action to match the Europe-friendly rhetoric.
Warning that Amsterdam would be a "night of the long knives", Klaus Kinkel, the German foreign minister, said Britain must go even further. The government's olive branches, which include pledges to sign up to the social chapter and surrendering the national veto over limited areas represent a huge reversal of Tory policy but Bonn is holding out for more power sharing on defence and an ambitious plan to pool sovereignty on justice and home affairs. "The British have moved, but there are obviously still points where it would be nice if they moved even further," Mr Kinkel said.
Reflecting Germany's wish to inject fresh impetus into the treaty negotiations, he warned that key reforms to how the EU operates remain to be negotiated and a breakthrough will require eleventh-hour trade-offs. Mr Cook sought the understanding of colleagues for Britain's insistence on retaining border controls and passport checks on EU citizens entering the UK and its rejection of moves to give Brussels legislative power over internal security, strictly a matter for loose co-operation between the capitals up to now.
He stressed the extent to which Britain has already demonstrated its pro-Europe credentials by embracing the social chapter, a controversial employment chapter to be incorporated into the new treaty, qualified majority voting in four areas new powers for the European Parliament and a generally constructive tone.
But new draft-treaty texts tabled by the Dutch EU presidency yesterday outline demands which Mr Blair will have little option but to block unless he can forge strong alliances in advance of what one diplomat described as the "final big poker session".
They effectively exclude Britain from decision-making on such matters as immigration and visa policy if it opts out of proposals to create a passport-free travel zone for EU citizens within five years. The proposals would give new powers to the European Commission and the European Court over such questions for the first time in response to German and French demands for an effective policy to combat organised crime.
According to the Dutch plans, which are backed by Germany and France, member- states would enjoy no right of veto over immigration policy decision after three years of the new treaty taking effect.