Delors defines limit of Danish treaty changes

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JACQUES DELORS, the European Commission President, yesterday stridently rejected the notion that binding legal agreements could be added to the Maastricht treaty to clarify Denmark's position on key issues.

The force and timing of his rejection will greatly complicate the Danish government's job of re-selling the Maastricht treaty to the electorate. The parliament meets today to endorse the government's proposals on how to make the treaty politically acceptable.

'You can only solve the Danish problem by adding interpretative declarations. You cannot add a protocol because it has the value of a treaty,' Mr Delors said in answer to questions yesterday. His message echoes the fears voiced in several member states that the Danish insistence on 'legally binding changes without a time limit' would go so far against the spirit of the treaty and its provisions that it would imply de facto renegotiation. This is the option all 12 member states and the EC institutions have categorically ruled out.

Piet Dankert, the Dutch Minister for European Affairs, said yesterday: 'The legally binding clause could be a real difficulty for all 12. Most of the other propositions in themselves don't offer too many difficulties because they do not seek to alter the substance of the treaty. The real problem is the third phase of monetary union.'

Copenhagen's plans for clarifying the treaty agreed last year have to be approved by the 11 other member states.

The government, besides endorsing greater transparency and an appropriate division of power, has suggested that Denmark stays out of future EC defence arrangements and undertakes no obligations regarding EC citizenship. However, the crucial demand is for an opt-out of the single currency and all arrangements related to this 'third stage' of monetary and economic union. As drafted, a legally-binding protocol to the Maastricht treaty, ensures: 'The Danish government shall notify the Council (of Europe) of its position concerning participation in the third stage . . . in the event of a notification that Denmark will not participate in the third stage, Denmark shall have an exemption.'

It is hoped that explanatory declarations added as riders to this will serve to satisfy the Danish that they have, in effect, a British-style opt out clause.

This path has been clearly laid out by other member states, notably Ireland. The Prime Minister, Albert Reynolds, said: 'We are ready to examine the possibility of interpretative declarations or even provisions with legal effect. But so there may be no misunderstanding . . . any such supplementary initiatives cannot involve any changes to the treaty. Nor can they have constitutional implications in any other way.'

Some EC delegations are more circumspect, preferring to wait until they are presented with the formal document as sanctioned by the Danish parliament. 'Where there is a political will, and there is a strong desire to help Denmark back aboard, clever lawyers will find a way,' said a diplomat yesterday.

The European Community is working on a short-term initiative to combat recession, Jacques Delors said last night, writes Andrew Marshall.

Mr Delors warned that recession was threatening to tear the EC apart and that action had to be taken.

'If we do nothing to solve the present development of the economic and monetary situation . . . the construction of Europe could end in a fiasco,' he said in comments to the Belgian Parliament.

He would not go into details about Commission plans but added: 'We can have decisions which do not affect the value of currencies and which are not inflationary.'

The theme was touched on in a speech Mr Delors made to the European Parliament earlier this week.