Major takes hard line on EU

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The Independent Online
John Major yesterday went out of his way to placate Conservative Euro-sceptics by taking a hard-line position at the European heads of government meeting in Dublin.

On the eve of the Conservative Party conference, likely to be dominated by Europe, the Prime Minister told a press conference that he would "not hesitate to say `no' to ideas that I believe are wrong for Europe as a whole, or wrong for the interests of the UK".

Mr Major added: "Look before you leap is a better watchword for Europe than leap before you look." Mr Major's tough rhetoric was accompanied by a list of policy areas over which he said he would dig in during treaty negotiations. These included the suggestion of an employment chapter in the new treaty that is being negotiated. Mr Major questioned whether it was right to put into the treaty a new area creating rights and obligations that could be challenged in the European Court.

He also unexpectedly opposed further moves on defence integration which, he said, might over-extend the EU's areas of competence. And he said he would require a treaty change if Britain loses the forthcoming court judgment on working time.

Leaders, however, agreed to put together a draft treaty before they meet again in Dublin in December. They reaffirmed plans to stick to the timetable of an agreement in June next year.

But the atmosphere was tarnished by tensions between Mr Major and other European leaders. The Prime Minister said he had told the President of the European Parliament, Klaus Hansch, that remarks he made on Friday were "offensive".

In a speech in Cork, Dr Hansch made an attack on the "blackmail tactics of the British government" and also implied that Britain was outnumbered 14-1 on most issues. British officials later said Dr Hansch had conceded at a private session "that he had gone over the top".