Kohl and Mitterrand slate the odd man out

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The Independent Online
THERE was barbed criticism but also some support for the British stand against Jean-Luc Dehaene in Corfu.

The sharpest words came from Helmut Kohl, the German Chancellor, who brushed aside suggestions that Mr Dehaene had been foisted on the others. 'To talk of a Franco-German diktat is crazy, primitive and simple,' he said.

President Mitterrand of France said the crisis had arisen because 'Great Britain has a concept of Europe completely at odds with that held by the original six member states'. Commission President Delors held the same view. 'It is a question of competing ideas of European construction,' he said. 'That is why this is so serious,' he added.

The shadow foreign secretary, Jack Cunningham, said: 'The use of the veto shows the weakness of John Major's position in Europe and his fear of the Euro-sceptics in his own party. Far from being at the heart of Europe, directly influencing events, Britain is now reduced to shouting from the sidelines when key decisions are made. When Chancellor Kohl and President Mitterrand worked out who they wanted to be the new Tory president of the Commission, they did not even think of consulting John Major.'

Sir David Steel, of the Liberal Democrats, said: 'Far from being at the heart of Europe, we are not even at its little finger.'

Conservative MP Sir Teddy Taylor, a leading Euro-sceptic, served warning that Mr Major must not back down on 15 July. 'The only thing that really matters now is, having taken the stand, John Major must see it through. The last time he had a battle with the EU over qualified majority voting he was badly let down by the Foreign Office. If he were to give in now it would have a devastating effect on Britain's standing.'

In Corfu, the Greek Prime Minister, Andreas Papandreou, who had hoped to crown the six-month Greek presidency by anointing a successor to Mr Delors, said: 'We followed a democratic procedure but Britain vetoed this process.'

He could not see the advantage of delay: 'I don't really know what Great Britain will know that it doesn't know now. There is a problem. The rest of us will stick by the candidature.'

Not everyone agreed: 'We will have to look for a new candidate because the British position is obviously firm,' said the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Some smaller countries spoke out in Mr Major's defence. The Danish Prime Minister, Poul Rasmussen, said it was vital that a country be allowed to use the veto when it thought its national interests were under threat.

Mr Dehaene, who hurried back to Belgium yesterday to commentate on his country's World Cup game against Holland, said it was 'bad for Europe' that there was no agreement on a successor.

(Photograph omitted)