Maastricht defeat 'would be an earthquake'

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The Independent Online
THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITY is preparing for the possible defeat of the Maastricht treaty in next Sunday's French referendum. Roland Dumas, the French Foreign Minister, yesterday said that would be an 'earthquake' if it happened.

With the 'yes' and 'no' vote evenly balanced in French polls, there was a gloomy mood at yesterday's rain-swept meeting of EC foreign ministers in Hatfield, Hertfordshire. All the ministers said they still believed France would ratify. But Mr Dumas grimly told reporters: 'A 'no' would turn things upside down, it would be an earthquake.' Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, said that Britain would, in the event of a defeat, be 'bringing forward a Community perspective as well as our own. After an earthquake, life goes on.'

A meeting of EC foreign ministers will be held in New York, where they will be gathered at the United Nations, on the day of the referendum, and EC finance ministers will be in Washington, attending an International Monetary Fund meeting.

There is no plan for what happens next. 'When there is an earthquake, you cannot tell how the houses will fall or how the ground will open,' said Mr Dumas. 'You simply know that there is a catastrophe.'

The Twelve are deeply divided over the future. Hans van den Broek, the Dutch Foreign Minister, said that whatever the result of the referendum, there would have to be further moves towards unity. Britain believes that parts of the treaty can be resuscitated. Mr Hurd would only say that after a defeat, there would have to be a rethink of the EC. 'To what extent that needs to take treaty form . . . is something that we need to discuss,' he said.

The effects of a 'no' vote would go beyond the treaty. 'You cannot believe that there would not be consequences on a political level, on the level of relations within the EC, on a financial level and on the level of external relations,' said Mr Dumas.

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