Labour victory could delay IGC summit

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A future Labour government would insist the conclusion of the Inter- Governmental Conference on European reform be delayed until at least six months after it is elected, to give a new Labour leadership time to fine- tune its European policies.

Such a delay would mean that the IGC, which begins next month, could stretch out for nearly two years, not ending until December 1997 - under the presidency of Luxembourg.

The conference, sometimes called Maastricht II, is expected to be just as controversial as the first Maastricht event. The final conclusions will test Europe's commitment to deeper integration and the preceding negotiations will raise a range of highly sensitive issues for Britain. On the agenda will be issues which go to heart of national sovereignty, including use of the national veto and powers of the European Parliament.

It was originally envisaged that the IGC would conclude in 1996, which would almost certainly have been during the term of the present Conservative government. However, Britain's European partners have already acknowledged that little progress can be made at the IGC, given John Major's determination to block progress on several fronts.

The decision, in principle, has already been taken to delay the IGC final summit until June 1997, in the hope that Tony Blair, the Labour leader, will by then be in Downing Street, and might be less obstructive than the Tories. Labour sources now say that a June 1997 summit for the IGC would not give a new government time enough to prepare and the conclusion should be put off until the end of that year. An incoming Labour government would be immediately overwhelmed with urgent decisions on Europe, not only on the IGC, but also on monetary union.

Other European leaders will probably reluctantly agree to a further delay in the IGC conclusion, to give Mr Blair time to adjust. If there was a refusal to accept such a postponement a new Labour government might consider using its veto to force one, party sources say. The IGC conclusions have to be unanimously agreed.

Most European leaders believe Labour will be more positive on Europe than the Tories, although they are realistic about what Mr Blair can deliver. So far Mr Blair has shown extreme caution on European issues. While Labour has said it will accept the social chapter and is prepared to consider more majority voting in limited areas, there is no sign that Britain will take a radical new pro-European track.