Major launches his Maastricht rescue

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN yesterday proposed a plan to get Denmark out of its difficulties over the Maastricht treaty. It is seen by ministers as the last chance to pull off a success for John Major by rescuing the treaty at next week's Edinburgh summit.

The plan has four elements. The conclusions of the summit would include agreements on subsidiarity, openness in EC administration and the creation of economic growth and jobs. The Twelve would also agree on a 'decision' to clarify and interpret controversial points in the treaty.

The Prime Minister has also proposed that the Danes should issue their own document at Edinburgh to reassure Danish voters before putting the treaty to a second referendum next year. Downing Street is putting most emphasis on the summit conclusions, a document that will attempt to reassure British and other voters that the treaty is not a first step towards a United States of Europe.

The biggest challenge will be to agree a package that meets the demands of the Danish opposition for legally binding guarantees, while not amending the treaty. 'It will be consistent with the treaty. None of this is for renegotiation,' said one source. 'It will make clear it is an interpretation.'

But it remains unclear whether any of the documents will be backed by the force of European law. Britain says that the decision will 'enter into force' at the same time as the treaty, implying that it has legal backing. But there is nothing in EC law permitting the European Council of ministers to adopt such 'decisions'.

However, after Maastricht takes effect, the biannual summits will have the power to set 'political guidelines' for the European Union. Some legal experts believe Britain is using this as the legal base for a decision by the summit, though that would imply that Britain was trying to shift power in the EC away from the Community institutions and towards nation states. Though that will delight the treaty's opponents it would enrage many of its supporters.

The document received a rocky reception from one of Denmark's opposition parties which is against the treaty. The Socialist People's Party said that it could not accept Mr Major's peace offering.

The determined effort to play down the federalist tone of the Maastricht treaty may also help to reassure Mr Major's backbenchers and secure an easier passage for the Bill to ratify the treaty when it resumes its long Commons committee stage in the new year.

Wrangling over Gatt, page 10