Delors to get key role on subsidiarity

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THE BRITISH presidency is planning to give Jacques Delors, the President of the European Commission, the key role in drawing up a shopping list of policy areas where power would be returned from Brussels to the 12 member states when the Maastricht treaty comes into force.

Handing the task to Mr Delors will infuriate some anti-Maastricht Tory MPs, who regard him as a committed federalist. But ministers believe it will lock the Commission into the process of restraining its powers, and reassure the doubters about Maastricht for a detailed declaration at December's Edinburgh summit.

The move comes as the Prime Minister's office indicated that no final agreement on the definitions or rules of subsidiarity could be expected from Friday's summit in Birmingham. While Britain still sees subsidiarity as 'top of the agenda', the strong suspicion among other EC countries that Britain is seeking a dilution of the Community threatens a tough session. Downing Street sources said they expected 'some progress, but not complete progress' on an issue seen by some Tory MPs as key to providing the reassurance they need over Maastricht.

Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday also sought to avert a renewed spate of speculation against the pound by damping down expectations that Friday's summit would agree to reforms of the European exchange rate mechanism. Underlining British fears about the vulnerability of the pound, Mr Hurd said that the markets were 'fragile' but that the 12 member states were agreed that it would be 'unreal' to expect approval of exchange rate mechanism (ERM) reforms in Birmingham.

'There was a very strong view among the heads of government that they should not give the markets, which are still in a fragile state, the impression that out of that (Birmingham) there is going to be some great new scheme or change to the existing scheme. It is not in anybody's interest to create that impression,' he told the cross-party Commons select committee on foreign affairs.

The British presidency has ensured that the finance ministers do not attend the summit, to avoid speculation in the markets. Mr Hurd said: 'It would be unreal not to discuss the matter at all. This is one of the reasons why members came to us and said we must have a summit. That was when the turbulence was at its height.'

The Birmingham summit will concentrate on agreeing the principles of 'subsidiarity' for a declaration on returning powers to parliaments from Brussels, which Britain and Denmark hope will ease the opposition to ratification of the Maastricht treaty. The British presidency will propose giving the Commission under Mr Delors the task of drawing up a list of policy areas under which Brussels will hand back more powers.

Some commissioners are opposed to the process. The aim will be to bind them to the agreement and to limit their scope for further opposition. The shopping list of policy areas to be covered by subsidiarity will be produced for agreement at the Edinburgh summit. It would then form an addition to the Maastricht treaty.

British ministers are submitting policy areas on which they believe Britain should preserve the power to take decisions, such as environment, transport and employment, to the Foreign Office.

Mr Delors has already proposed that some Commission powers over environmental and transport issues should be handed back to member states. This was intended to demonstrate that the Commission is ready to respond to the widespread concern in Europe at the concentration of power in Brussels.

But ministerial sources said that giving Mr Delors the key role would tie in the President to the moves to limit the powers of the Commission.