The European Crisis: Denmark putting the brake on treaty rethink

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The Independent Online
THE JOB of getting Denmark to ratify the troubled Maastricht treaty is likely to be even slower and more difficult than has so far been realised after Poul Schluter, the Danish Prime Minister, yesterday raised for the first time the prospect that his Government might not be able to hold a referendum until autumn 1993.

EC diplomats in Copenhagen said last night that ministers had warned them of this privately, but had not previously said so in public.

Mr Schluter, who is trying to find a way to reverse his country's 51-49 per cent rejection of the Maastricht treaty, yesterday spoke more precisely than ever before about what changes his Government might demand of its EC partners before putting the treaty before Danes in a second referendum. Without presenting them as firm demands, he said that both the European Commission and the Council of Ministers should make their meetings public, that the power of the Commission should be curtailed, and that ministers should 'have the chance to ask the Commission to stop work on a certain project'.

He will raise these and other issues in a meeting in London with John Major on 30 September, when the two are likely to prepare a common position for the London meeting of EC heads of government called for 15-16 October. Britain will then face the delicate task of chairing the summit discussions while taking common cause with Denmark's demands that the Community should be made more open and less centralised.

A EC diplomat in Copenhagen said yesterday that the 'White Book', which the government is due to publish on 12 October, is unlikely to say clearly what Denmark wants to change in the treaty. 'We've been discouraged from regarding it as a seminal event,' he said. 'It's just a background document, put together by officials for Danish politicians in parliament.' There is, therefore, no guarantee that Denmark will come forward next month with a draft text it wants incorporated into the treaty.

A hint of what may be to come, however, can be gleaned from demands by Denmark's opposition Social Democratic party, many of whose supporters voted against the treaty. The party does not ask for the text of the treaty itself to be changed, but wants written confirmation that Denmark:

Need not join a future single currency;

Can refuse to send its soldiers for the defence of Europe;

Need not give Danes official 'European Citizenship', as the treaty proposes, even though it will carry out the obligations which that entails;

Need not modify its generous welfare state to meet common European rules.

Officials and diplomats in London and Copenhagen see these demands as promising because they could be met without changing the treaty text.

A Foreign Office source agreed yesterday that the British-Danish axis is likely to be strengthened in the coming weeks and months. The pressure on both is likely to be increased by decisions in Germany and Spain to ratify the treaty quickly in their parliaments. The Bundestag will start debating the Maastricht text on 8 October, and the Spanish parliament on 1 October.