Britain faces new row over EU powers with EU EU integration with Britain wears thin

Britain faced new demands yesterday to hand over more powers to Brussels during the forthcoming Maastricht review negotiations, or stand accused of stunting the next phase of European evolution.

The calls followed the publication of an inquiry report by the 15 member states on how the European Union should reshape its policies and institutions in the inter-governmental conference next year. The report, by the "Reflection Group", revealed the true extent of Britain's isolation, and will set new battle lines for the summit of heads of government in Madrid in two weeks.

Playing down the prospect of new confrontation, David Davis, the Foreign Office minister on the Reflection Group, said it was now "probable" that the so-called Maastricht II conference would conclude after the next election in Britain, likely to be early in 1997. He declined to comment on hopes expressed by Britain's European partners that a more pro-European Labour government might be in power by then.

The Reflection Group report confirms that during its six months of talks, all but Britain wanted to weaken the power of individual states by increasing the use of qualified majority voting in the EU Council of Ministers. All states but Britain also wanted to strengthen the democratic legitimacy of EU institutions by giving new powers to the European Parliament.

The integrationists believe new power-sharing is essential if Europe is to operate effectively after enlargement to the east. Britain believes there is no need for more integration, insists on maintaining its right to opt out of new EU social policies and resists any new Brussels powers over foreign policy or asylum and immigration.

Expressing frustration at the British position yesterday, Carlos Westendorp, the Spanish chairman of the Reflection Group, said Britain would not be able to remain on the outside: in the end "pragmatism" would prevail. Mr Westendorp said the Maastricht II negotiations would provide a "major historical opportunity" for Europe to prepare for the next millennium, strongly signalling that Britain would not be allowed to stand in the way.

Whichever party is in power in Britain when the Maastricht II negotiations are concluded should be prepared to show "realism", Mr Westendorp said.

Just three months ago John Major expressed the view that Europe's plans for integration were slowing down and the European Union was now dancing to Britain's sluggish tune. At the time, there were signs of growing disarray within the union, with France and German in particular appearing undecided about federalist plans. However, Britain's clear refusal to compromise on even the more limited power-sharing proposals laid before the Reflection Group has spread new frustration among other European leaders, who now find themselves within months of the launch of Maastricht II talks with almost no common ground on how to proceed.