UK 'holds future of Europe'

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The Independent Online
The outcome of the British general election is absolutely crucial to the future of the whole of Europe, the Dutch foreign minister warned yesterday, as the Netherlands took over the EU presidency.

And he warned that unless Labour resists anti-Europeanism in the election campaign, Europe's attempts at reform will be badly undermined.

Hans Van Mierlo, the Dutch Foreign Minister, speaking at the close of yesterday's Dublin summit, said it was vital for the whole of Europe that Labour presents a positive view of EU membership during the election.

His warnings coincided with a bitter row between a government minister and the leader of the opposition over claims that a newly-elected Labour government would make "six surrenders in six weeks". David Davis, foreign officer minister, was referring to Labour's likely acceptance of increased qualified majority voting in six European policy areas - the social chapter, vetoes on industrial, social, environmental and regional policy, and an employment chapter.

The Dutch government, which will be responsible for overseeing the new Amsterdam Treaty on European reform, accepts that little progress can be made on rewriting Europe's treaty while John Major is in power.

However, the Dutch are also fearful that even Labour may fuel British anti-European fever in a bid to win votes in the election campaign. The result will be that whoever comes to power will have no room to manoeuvre when the time comes to cede more powers to Brussels in the new European treaty in Amsterdam in June.

"The most important thing is how Europe will figure in the election campaign. If the view of Europe is negative either winner will not have much room to negotiate afterwards," said Mr Van Mierlo. Mr Davis told journalists in Dublin: "If there is an election on 1 May and Labour won, then in six weeks we would see six surrenders: the social chapter, four vetoes - on industrial, social, environmental and regional policy - and an employment chapter."

Ministers predict Europe will play an increasingly important role in the election campaign, raising its profile as an issue among voters.