Major seeks to keep EMU option

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The Independent Online

Political Editor

John Major yesterday reaffirmed his intention not to rule out British membership of EMU in the next Parliament but made it clear he was opposed to the fast-track agenda for closer EU integration unveiled by France and Germany yesterday.

In contrast to proposals unveiled in Baden-Baden by Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President Jacques Chirac, the Prime Minister firmly repeated to the Commons that he will oppose an extension of majority voting and increased powers for the European Parliament. But although there are mounting doubts among senior British politicians in both the main parties about the likelihood of the 1999 timetable for a single currency being met, the Prime Minister said in the Commons it was "still" Government policy not to rule out British membership in the next parliament.

After yesterday's Franco-German summit Mr Kohl and Mr Chirac sent a letter to the other 13 EU members indicating that France and Germany proposed to bypass the objections of countries more sceptical than themselves as regards European integration.

The Prime Minister's declaration, in exchanges with Tony Blair, the Labour leader, followed his remarks in an interview with the Independent last month that he did not want to "surrender" his influence in negotiations in Europe on the consequences of EMU for countries outside as well as inside a single currency.

The prospect of a White Paper, setting out Britain's negotiating position for the 1996 Inter-Governmental Conference on the EU's future, further increased yesterday when Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, told the Commons that ministers were now actively considering whether to publish one early next year. Mr Major's remarks came a week ahead of the Madrid summit, at which Mr Major is expected to press his case that the economic results for countries outside EMU - including the possibility of competitive devaluations - have not been sufficiently thought through. It also comes on the eve of a fresh campaign by John Redwood, Mr Major's leadership challenger in the summer, to persuade the Government to make a further gesture towards the Euro-sceptic right, by pledging that a Tory government would not join a single currency in the next Parliament. On the Labour side both Mr Blair, and, in a BBC Radio interview yesterday, Robin Cook, his foreign affairs spokesman, have also suggested the 1999 timetable could well slip. Mr Cook suggested on the Today programme that delay might well be necessaryto meet the widened economic convergence criteria a Labour government would be seeking. After saying Mr Major had made a "very important statement" by not ruling out membership, Mr Blair pressed the Prime Minister to say whether that was the "position of the whole of your Government". Mr Major replied that it was Kohl warns France, page 12