Hurd acts to halt faction fighting: Foreign Secretary smoothes ruffled Euro feathers

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Indy Politics
DOUGLAS HURD moved last night to quell a further outbreak of Tory factionalism on Europe as Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, sought to stake out common ground with the ruling Christian Democrats in Germany.

Seeking to soothe anxieties of pro-European MPs in the wake of John Major's use of the British veto last weekend, the Foreign Secretary told the meeting that 'five or six' alternative candidates who were 'broadly acceptable' to London had already been mooted for the European Commission presidency.

At the same time, the Foreign Secretary acted to contain tremors through the Euro-sceptic wing over Mr Clarke's personal restatement in a pro-European speech of his belief in the long-term goal of a single currency. Mr Hurd said the Cabinet was all agreed that the issue had been 'put on one side'.

Prominent Europhobe backbenchers predictably lost little time yesterday in angrily condemning as 'foolish' and 'inopportune' Mr Clarke's reassertion of his view in favour of Economic and Monetary Union, 'provided the economic circumstances are right'.

Senior Tories and government officials, however, were at pains to point out that Mr Clarke had stressed both that the UK did not accept an 'artificial timetable' and, more important still, that no British government would sign up to a single currency without Parliament's go-ahead.

They also emphasised that much of Mr Clarke's speech to the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Bonn was devoted to the free-market, deregulated and free-enterprise Europe he wanted to see. 'There is no alternative to low inflation and healthy public finances as the economic background to all our other efforts to create prosperity and new jobs.'

The Chancellor told his German audience that together they must resist new methods of borrowing by the EU Commission for infrastructure spending that it would be wrong for member states to finance in that way.

'There is too much public debt in Europe now. It should be reduced by the member states, without the commission adding to it new debt of its own,' he said.

Mr Clarke said that the approach of Jean Luc Dehaene, the candidate favoured by a majority of EU states, was 'less likely to produce the right kind of Europe for the enterprising industrial economies that we wish to see'.

He added: 'We need someone who will lead the union in a direction that supports free trade, free enterprise and a political Europe that will maximise and influence the world of the nation states that comprise its membership.'

The Prime Minister may face questions today in the Commons on whether he supports the single-currency views of Mr Clarke or those of Michael Portillo, who made clear his personal opposition to EMU during the local election campaign.