THE HURD RESIGNATION: Departure leaves doubts in Europe

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Douglas Hurd's announcement produced a mixed response across Europe yesterday, with most governments praising his diplomatic skills but cautioning that the really important question remains Britain's future attitude to Europe.

There was general agreement in Bonn, Brussels, Paris and Rome that Mr Hurd was a highly talented professional with a sincere commitment to European co-operation, but that Britain's relations with its EU allies would have been more productive in recent years if he had not been forced to operate under the constraints imposed by his increasingly Euro-sceptical colleagues in the Government and Conservative Party.

The Socialist leader in the European Parliament, Britain's Pauline Green, said Mr Hurd's announcement meant that at next week's EU summit in Cannes, "Britain will be fielding a delegation of dead donkeys".

Karl Lamers, foreign policy spokesman of the ruling Christian Democrats, said: "It's very sad. Hurd is a man of integrity - a very capable diplomat, who played a good role in German-British relations. He is a European in the best sense of the word.''

Chancellor Helmut Kohl's centre-right government identified Mr Hurd as a politician genuinely concerned to make a success of European unity. For the shapers of German foreign policy, there is no more important test of a European leader's qualities.

Mr Hurd had built up a good working relationship with Germany's Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, but his closest colleague on the European circuit was probably France's Alain Juppe, recently promoted from foreign minister to prime minister. Mr Juppe was unavailable for comment, but French officials said the two men had achieved a great deal in co-ordinating French and British policy on Bosnia, where they shared the experience of being subjected to vitriolic criticism both domestically and from the US.

Ambassadors and senior officials in Brussels pointed out that the attitude of other EU countries to Britain is dominated by their assessment of the prospects for John Major's government. "The discussion is not so much about the changes in the shuffling of the deckchairs among the present British team. This will not make much difference. More important is whether the entire team might soon be replaced," said one EU official.

Most of Britain's EU partners believe that there will be little clarity to British policies on Europe until the next general election, due by 1997. Many governments are hoping that a Labour victory will produce a more pro-EU Britain.

"It is a mark of Douglas Hurd's positive European outlook that it is difficult to see anyone as his successor who is likely to be as positive in approach. But even Hurd in the end became more cautious in his public statements about Europe," said an Italian official.

An EU source in Brussels said that Mr Hurd's record included improving the EU's relationship with Russia, arguing for the EU's expansion, and a key role in tortuous diplomacy involving Greece, Cyprus and Turkey.