Danish MPs back deal to pass Maastricht

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The Independent Online
AIDES to Jacques Delors moved yesterday to quell the political furore generated by the EC President's remarks implying that it would be impossible to accommodate the Danes' insistence on legally-binding alterations to the Maastrict treaty.

Yesterday, the Danish parliament's EC committee formally agreed a plan designed to reverse the country's opposition to Maastricht. Details were formally sent to member-state capitals, because it is there that any compromise must be agreed. The Danish Foreign Minister, Uffe Ellemann- Jensen, will travel to London on Tuesday, Bonn on Wednesday and Paris on Thursday for more detailed talks.

Addressing the Belgian parliament on Thursday, Mr Delors had said in response to a question: 'If the Twelve want to maintain their position and not modify the Treaty, we can only resolve the problem by adding interpretative declarations and not a protocol because the latter has the legal value of a treaty.'

This was, said his spokesman, merely an exposition of the view expressed countless times by representatives of EC institutions and individual member states. There were two essential principles to bear in mind, Mr Delors had continued: 'That no one may force a country to ratify Maastricht and that no country should hold so powerful veto that they are able to prevent the others from moving forward.' His remarks, or more particularly their timing, were regarded by Danish diplomats as 'unhelpful', although he has no formal role in the negotiation process between Denmark and its 11 EC colleagues.

Mr Ellemann-Jensen said yesterday: 'Only in November will we have a picture of Denmark's chances . . . I therefore recommend everybody to take it easy. There is no point in making agitated or negative evaluations. The talks will be difficult enough.'

The Danish Prime Minister, Poul Schluter, has already made it clear that the Danes do not expect any compromise to involve re-negotiation: the country accepts this is not an alternative anyone could agree to. However, there is as yet no consensus on how the Danes' main demands can be met without renegotiating the treaty.

They are: a unilateral weakening of treaty commitments regarding a common defence policy and European citizenship and - most crucially - an opt-out on the third stage of monetary union: that is, a single currency and the creation of a European central bank. In Whitehall there is concern that any deal that goes beyond the opt-outs secured by Britain in Maastricht will result in rebel backbenchers demanding similar new concessions.

In Copenhagen there is concern that Mr Ellemann-Jensen's known pro-European stance will weaken the strength of the message he must now deliver. 'When Ellemann-Jensen has to convince the others that we should stay outside defence co-operation, they will look him deep in the eyes and ask if he agrees. He doesn't,' said Steen Gade, the EC spokesman for the Socialist People's Party. The SPP led the 'no' campaign, but have given their support to the 'national compromise' plan.

Mr Ellemann-Jensen has described the Danish dilemma as 'to join and not to join, that is the answer'. But the political riddle posed becomes harder to resolve with every day. Outside observers and legal experts have suggested that, given the political will to bring Denmark back into the Maastricht fold, it should be possible to find a way. But what is acceptable to national capitals might not be acceptable to national parliamentarians, particularly those in Westminster. The Maastrict process is politically far more sickly now than before the Danes said 'no'.