The Government in Crisis: Danish move adds to Major's woes: Foreign Office warns that Maastricht memorandum may make ratification process in Britain more difficult

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The Independent Online
DENMARK has dropped a time bomb into the lap of the Government. By coming up with proposals on the Maastricht treaty that are likely to meet stiff resistance from some European Community member states, it has made the road to ratification of the treaty in Britain even more difficult.

'The (Danish) memorandum is unlikely to be acceptable as it stands to member states, and some of them may make this clear,' according to a Foreign Office advisory note received by the Independent. 'We may therefore have a difficult negotiation ahead of us, which could play awkwardly with the Paving Debate and the reintroduction of the Maastricht Bill.' Statements by British politicians that it is now clear how Denmark will proceed to ratification - a precondition of bringing the Bill back to Parliament - look misleading.

The core of the Danish proposals, released in part on Tuesday, is that the treaty can be put to the Danish people, who rejected it on 2 June, in a new referendum. The key areas in which Denmark wants safeguards before then are proposals for a common currency, defence, citizenship, and co-operation on immigration and crime. A poll published on Tuesday showed 64 per cent of voters would back Maastricht if the amendments are agreed. But the proposals will cause trouble on several scores, the Foreign Office note says.

Despite British statements to the contrary, the Foreign Office believes that it is unclear whether the Danish objectives can be achieved without effectively renegotiating the treaty, something that has been ruled out at every stage by the other 11 members.

The Danish memorandum says that any agreement 'must be juridically binding for all 12 Community member states'. It adds that 'the agreement must include real substantive changes from what was rejected on 2 June' - the Maastricht treaty.

In particular, the Danes want a much tighter opt-out from European Monetary Union. There is already a short protocol allowing for a Danish vote before proceeding to a single currency. But it is nothing like Britain's opt-out, a much longer protocol. Denmark now seems to want a British-style clause. Reopening this issue - the most sensitive in the treaty - might see other states demanding the same privilege. This might even include Germany, which is now getting cold feet over EMU. It would horrify states like France, who want the path to a single currency made irreversible.

The Danish deal is based on a plan put together by three opposition parties - the Social Democrats, the Socialist People's Party and the Radicals. The ruling centre-right coalition was in no position to change this, since it has too few votes. Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, Denmark's Foreign Minister, is to take the proposals round Europe. But the Foreign Office note says that he 'will not believe in them'.

The strength of feeling against changing these proposals was revealed by Holger Nielsen, leader of the Socialist People's Party, leader of the 'no' campaign in the June referendum.

He was already furious yesterday at suggestions by Prime Minister Poul Schluter that some of the opt-outs - on a single currency, for instance - might be reversible. 'It is preposterous that he is saying that we might join in a few years time,' Mr Nielsen said yesterday. The Foreign Office note admits that the demands for substantive alterations 'may not be negotiable'.

Douglas Hurd admitted yesterday that though the deal was 'a compromise', it was the only possible framework. 'There is work still to be done but what is clear now . . . is that the Danish government . . . have the clear intent to seek clarifications which would enable them to put the matter again to the Danish people. That is a step forward.'

The discussions over the next steps will be taken mainly by foreign ministers, and possibly at a special EC conclave before the Edinburgh summit. Foreign Office officials admit that they are crossing into unknown territory, and that the legal form of any agreement is unclear.

The core of the problem remains. The country rejected the Maastricht treaty because it did not agree to it, and now it wants changes. But the Twelve have decided there can be no renegotiation. And in Britain, there is a strong tide in favour of following the Danish example.

East Europe links, page 9

(Photograph omitted)

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