John Major is expected to agree to a compromise package of Europe-wide anti-racism and anti-semitism measures, when he meets with his European partners at the Madrid summit this week.
Senior officials are meeting in Brussels today in an attempt to hammer out a formula, and diplomats said yesterday that a deal was likely to be ready in time for the summit on Friday.
However, further clashes on the subject loom, as the European Commission meets today to discuss its proposals to introduce a separate raft of measures which would outlaw discrimination in all EUlegislation and to declare 1997 "the European year against racism".
Last month, Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, caused a furore in Brussels when he vetoed the proposals drawn up within the Council of Ministers, which included calls for all member states to outlaw holocaust denial, as well as uniform laws to ban racist or discriminatory behaviour. Mr Howard shocked other European interior ministers when he lost his temper in a council meeting and accused the rest of "lecturing" Britain.
Britain was particularly loath to introduce a new law banning discrimination on the grounds of religion. Religious discrimination is not at present a basis for criminal action under British anti-racism laws.
It now appears that the Government may be ready to accept the EU proposals if clearer language is agreed to ensure that the "intent" to provoke racial hatred is clarified. The compromise forumula is also expected to be less specific about what domestic law changes will be necessary, as a result of EU harmonisation. However, it is still unclear whether Britain will agree to introduce a law banning holocaust denial.
Britain's isolation on such a sensitive issue has proved embarrassing to the Government. Germany, in particular, has expressed anger at the British stand. Chancellor Helmut Kohl is determined to tighten Europe's common action against racism and xenophobia in order to stem the rise of neo-Nazism.Reuse content