The Tories in Bournemouth: Brussels leaps to defend its worth

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The Independent Online
THE European Commission has gone into overdrive to counter 'disinformation' suggesting that Britain would be better off out of the European Union, writes Sarah Lambert in Brussels.

The Commission is worried that the anti-European sentiments expressed at the Conservative Party conference could encourage sceptics in other countries to give vent to similar spleen with damaging repercussions as the EU prepares to re-write the Maastricht treaty in 1996.

Sir Leon Brittan, the UK's senior Brussels commissioner and a Conservative, will give a speech today at a fringe meeting of the Tory conference to counter the arguments of the Eurosceptic right-wing as articulated by Norman Lamont, Lord Tebbit and Michael Portillo.

Sir Leon went on radio yesterday to answer Mr Portillo's speech and warn of the dangers if Britain confuses patriotism and xenophobia. 'If we give the impression that our partners are not our friends we will ultimately be unable to create the open and sensible Europe we want,' he said.

A senior Commission official said: 'There is a growing feeling here in Brussels, and we believe within the pro-Europe wing of the Tory party, that it is no longer enough just to take this stuff sitting down: there has to be a more robust response.' But he added: 'It is difficult for us to fight fire with fire. So many of the figures presented as 'evidence' are taken from some kind of fantasy world.'

None the less, mindful that it is too slow to repond to criticism, the information unit of the European Commission has already set up a Rapid Reply Unit to try to correct media misinterpretation.