Danes lose fear of walking the EC plank

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DENMARK'S European Community partners are likely to be disappointed if they expect Poul Schluter, the Prime Minister, to bring a Maastricht shopping-list to next Friday's Birmingham summit, diplomats in Copenhagen said yesterday.

EC missions in Copenhagen fear that other capitals are too optimistic in hoping for a clear statement of Denmark's intentions when the government's White Book on European union is published on Monday. They warn that, far from proposing a way out of the constitutional difficulty caused by the rejection of the Maastricht treaty by Danes in their June referendum, the White Book's 350 pages are likely to contain only an exhaustive history of how the treaty came into being, and an outline of options available to the Danish government.

As his latest thrust in the diplomatic fencing that is preceding the real debate on his country's demands, Mr Schluter said in Bonn on Wednesday that Denmark may demand opt-outs from the Maastricht provisions on defence, monetary union and social policy. But he added something apparently contradictory: that the changes he wants could be brought about without reopening negotiations on the text itself.

Resolution of the paradox, according to analysts in Brussels and Copenhagen, lies in the fact that Denmark has already managed to write two of the 'opt-outs' into the Maastricht treaty. A special protocol allows the Danish government to call a referendum before joining a single currency, and the standard provisions on common defence provide for a full debate on the subject at an inter- governmental conference in 1996.

Mr Schluter would therefore be pushing at an open door if he were to demand such things from his EC partners at the Edinburgh summit in December. Danish concerns about European social policy are, if anything, more easily dealt with.

Those Danes who dislike Brussels-style social policies do so because they offer too little social support, not too much. During the campaign that preceded their June referendum, they were told misleadingly that EC policies could put at risk Denmark's high pensions and its welfare system. Other countries would have little difficulty with a special protocol clarifying that this will not be so.

Yesterday's debate in the Folketing saw Mr Schluter in a generous mood towards his Social Democratic opponents. In commenting on his opening speech to Parliament on Tuesday, Danish newspapers have pointed out that the weakness of the ruling coalition is already forcing him to pursue the policies of the opposition.

But Danish politicians are now confident that their European partners are no longer giving them the stark walk-the-plank choice of either ratifying the treaty as it stands or leaving the EC.

When Martin Bangemann, the EC Commissioner for the internal market, said on Saturday that members of the EC who refuse further integration should consider whether they ought to secede, Mr Schluter felt strong enough to tell him to stick to his own job and leave bigger questions to the Community's member states. Mr Bangemann yesterday said his remarks had not referred specifically to Denmark.