Amid denials by officials, the speech to the Belgian Institute of International Affairs looked like a further attempt to placate British Conservatives, while seeking to deliver the message that the ordinary people of Europe want the Union to work better rather than constant striving to reach the next stage of development.
It brought warnings from Sir Edward Heath, the former prime minister, and backbench 'positive Europeans', that Mr Hurd had yet to find a formula that would help the Tories win large numbers of seats in the European Parliament elections on 9 June.
Hugh Dykes, chairman of the all-party European Movement, said: 'We really do need to see the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary giving a very strong lead to support the further developments of the Maastricht treaty which we have solemnly signed up to.'
Mr Hurd concentrated on 'the need to use the Maastricht treaty to prevent fraud and make sure our rules are applied evenly . . . What our people want to see is evidence that the present arrangements work, that the present administration is sound, that present mistakes and abuses are put right.
'The criticism of our people is . . . that the actual work of the European Union falls below its rhetoric.
'The true European vision in 1994 lies in making a success of what we have already agreed, and extending that success to other parts of Europe.'
The speech is the latest step along the painful road of drawing up a European election manifesto that could unite the party. Jack Cunningham, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said it was another example of the Tory split on Europe. Sir Russell Johnson, the Liberal Democrats' European spokesman, said the last senior European Tory had sold out.
It will add to mounting grief among the 90 or so 'positive' European Tory MPs. 'We have been very, very patient,' one said. 'The Government has been taking advantage of it . . . There is a lot of despondency and a lot of alarm that Douglas is so negative.'
Some pro-European MPs have been disturbed by the conciliatory tone taken by John Major towards Euro- sceptics during Prime Minister's Questions.
While Tory Euro-sceptics could find little to disagree with, Iain Duncan-Smith, MP for Chingford, said: 'I would have wished he had said that much of this is endemic and structural. He is asking the right questions, but that begs the next question - is it not time for structural reform?'
While privately agreeing that Mr Hurd was trying to steer a middle course before the European elections, the Euro-sceptical wing was far more interested yesterday in Mr Hurd's efforts in a meeting of foreign ministers last night to resist changes to EU voting procedures in the run-up to the arrival of new member states.
With Spain its only ally, Britain argues that only by maintaining the current voting system can the role of large and small states be kept in proportion - otherwise, small states will have too much power. The other 11 want the size of a blocking minority lifted.Reuse content