Birmingham Summit: Danes facing the music over Maastricht: Schluter on the spot

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The Independent Online
IN A surprise last-minute change to the agenda of today's summit, Poul Schluter, the Danish Prime Minister, has been asked to make a special presentation to his colleagues outlining how he hopes to prepare the ground for a second Danish referendum on the Maastricht treaty.

As he was preparing for the meeting yesterday, however, Mr Schluter came under increased domestic pressure to take a hard line with his European Community partners in Birmingham. In a debate in the Danish parliament, opposition members who helped to defeat the treaty in a referendum in June insisted that the issue should be sent back to the electorate only if Denmark can extract legally binding undertakings from the rest of the Community on the issues that concern them.

Mr Schluter's government is expected to present its formal proposals for changes or additions to the Maastricht text by the end of this month. But the difficulty he faces is the amorphousness of Danish public opinion: left and right opposed the treaty for different and often contradictory reasons, and assembling a coherent set of Danish demands is likely to be a taxing job.

The White Book published last week by the Danish government gave few clues. It presented Denmark with eight different options, ranging from demanding a renegotiation of the Maastricht arrangements from the beginning to an agreement to accept the treaty within an unspecified time-limit.

The growing stridency of opposition politicians' comments is likely to prompt Community leaders to put Mr Schluter on the spot today by asking him to clarify whether he expects to demand changes that might require a renegotiation of the treaty. The 12 foreign ministers of the Community ruled out exactly such a renegotiation only days after the Danish referendum produced its surprise result.

Danish demands have already had a powerful behind-the-scenes effect on the debate, however. Brussels sources yesterday pointed out that John Major's decision at the end of last month to use a three-line whip to push the principle of the treaty through parliament this year was announced the day after he met Mr Schluter. It is thought to have been in response to Danish concerns that the Government decided to try to proceed with Britain's ratification of the treaty as planned.

One senior diplomat predicted last night that today's presentation will be the beginning of a step-by- step plan in which the Danes announce their demands at the end of the month, spend a leisurely month negotiating them with their EC partners, and then proceed to a framework political agreement at the formal European Council at Edinburgh.

That, in turn, would allow the Danish government two months for a second referendum campaign, leading to a poll in the spring of 1993.

These plans could be derailed if the political uncertainty inside Denmark gives the government no choice but to demand changes that would force the 11 other countries to ratify the treaty all over again.

All depends on the voters. Although Danish officials have drawn comfort from recent opinion polls suggesting that the anti- Maastricht tide in their country may be turning, nothing can be taken for granted about the future behaviour of Danish voters. Which way they will jump is the unasked question lurking under today's summit table.

Leading article, page 18

(Photograph omitted)

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