Britain attempts to sway sceptics

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BRITISH officials yesterday expressed satisfaction at a declaration by Chancellor Helmut Kohl that there would be no 'two-speed Europe'. They dismissed remarks made on Monday by the French Minister for European Affairs, Elisabeth Guigou, that Europe 'will not wait indefinitely' for Britain to ratify the Maastricht treaty. 'We will proceed a douze,' one British official insisted.

The official said the Government planned to use the Birmingham EC summit next month to start seeking ways of making Maastricht more acceptable to sceptics without changing its content. London said it hoped 'Birmingham will start the ball rolling' on concrete ways to apply the principle of subsidiarity - whereby Brussels keeps out of matters that can be dealt with by national governments. He added that the next stage would then be to have the subsidiarity plan expanded in a text at the Edinburgh summit in December.

The difficulty was that even an 'addition' to the treaty might constitute a legal change requiring re-ratification by those member- states that have already ratified it once. Legal experts were 'looking at other ways of achieving binding texts without necessarily being additions to the treaty itself', an official said.

Today, the British begin visits to European capitals to start laying the groundwork for Birmingham: John Major will see President Francois Mitterrand in Paris, and Mr Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, will see his German counterpart, Klaus Kinkel, in Bonn. Tonight, Mr Major will dine in London with the Danish Prime Minister, Poul Schluter. The two will discuss the forthcoming Danish White Paper on Maastricht - where one of the themes is likely to be the application of subsidiarity.

But their meeting was overshadowed last night by polite but intensified pressure from Germany for Britain to speed up its ratification.

Chancellor Kohl said yesterday that the treaty's renegotiation is out of the question. He pressed the other 11 EC countries to get on with the job of moving towards a single currency by 1999.

EC diplomats in Brussels have made clear this week the increasing irritation in foreign ministries all over Europe with Britain's insistence that it will wait for a change in Denmark's situation before placing its ratification Bill before Parliament.

The White Paper to be published in Copenhagen in 10 days' time is no longer expected to contain the shopping-list of Denmark's demands. Officials describe it as an anodyne document, long on history and policy options but shorter on recommendations. Mr Schluter is likely to tell the Prime Minister that he will be ready to table his demands a month or so after the publication of the document.

In Luxembourg yesterday the German Chancellor made it clear which country he believes is responsible for the persistent rumours of the imminent creation of a joint Franco-German central bank or the beginnings of a two- speed Europe. Such rumours, he said, kept reappearing 'like the Loch Ness monster.'

British officials denied that the choice of Bonn as Mr Hurd's first pre-Birmingham venue bore any relation to Anglo-German tension over the European exchange rate mechanism. They cited Bonn's proximity to Geneva, where Mr Hurd was due to attend talks on Yugoslavia. Mr Hurd said that Britain and Germany 'came together on one crucial principle . . . subsidiarity'.