Hurd foresees 'multi-track Europe': Donald Macintyre and Patricia Wynn Davies on a vision of growth and flexibility

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Indy Politics
(First Edition)

Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, is to use a keynote speech in Warsaw tonight to lay out his vision of a 'multi-track, multi-speed and multi-faceted' Europe.

After securing Cabinet agreement to a European election manifesto which will form the basis for a 'positive' campaign, Mr Hurd will argue that future enlargement, including to the East, would ensure a 'flexibility' in the European Union allowing member states to proceed at different paces on different issues.

Although shortened since original drafts, the principles of the manifesto - including a neutral approach to a future single currency - have remained intact, despite calls from the Tory right to make it more Eurosceptical.

But Mr Hurd's emphasis on a 'multi-track' Europe, although not explicitly designed to do so, will appeal to some Tories who will see it as a means of avoiding ever closer integration.

Mr Hurd will return to the theme next week in another important speech to the Scottish Tory conference in which he is likely to point out that the United Kingdom has managed to retain opt-outs on the social chapter and a single currency, while being in the 'fast lane' in defence co-operation and the single market.

Meanwhile, Mr Hurd upped the ante in the European election campaign yesterday with a hard- hitting offensive against Labour policy on majority voting.

The Tory manifesto will underline the commitment to maintain Britain's veto in EU decision-making and continued opposition to the Social Chapter.

Labour will back retention of the veto on taxation, EU financing and defence and security, although the party is prepared to accept loosening on environmental, health and social issues.

But the controversial signing by John Smith, the Labour leader, of the Party of European Socialists (PES) manifesto last November will be heavily exploited during the Tory campaign. Mr Smith was embarrassed into distancing himself from the document after it was portrayed as backing job- boosting measures such as a mandatory 35-hour working week. In fact, the measure was only presented as a possible option.

Mr Hurd selected a different front yesterday. In a letter last week, Jack Cunningham, shadow foreign secretary, told him: 'Please don't repeat the falsehood that Labour would surrender Britain's veto. We won't.

'You and your colleagues lied your way through the last general election and our country is still paying the price.'

Mr Hurd's reply, released yesterday, said: 'Why then is the Labour Party campaigning under the European Socialist manifesto? The final version of the document states: 'We want the European Parliament to have a right of initiative, and for co-decision between the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers and majority voting . . . to be the rule'.'

Mr Hurd claimed Labour was fully involved in the drafting of the document. He said: 'I do not see how you can now repudiate this document, unless you are asking the British public to disregard any document to which your party leader adds his signature.'

(Photograph omitted)