Edinburgh Summit: Leaders edge towards a Denmark deal

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EUROPEAN leaders were inching painfully towards new proposals on Denmark's status within the Maastricht treaty last night. Though success was not guaranteed, several officials said they thought there was enough goodwill to broker a deal today.

Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, Denmark's Foreign Minister, told Danish journalists talks might go on late tonight. He said Denmark was prepared to back away from a bad deal, adding that it was 'not realistic' to expect a third Danish referendum, if a second one blew up. And, he warned, 'there will not be room in the EC for Denmark as ordinary members' if a second referendum fails.

Yesterday negotiations on a British proposal for the Danes took up a large part of the first day of the European summit in Edinburgh. It was clear that several states were still disturbed by the idea that a legally binding agreement would compromise federalism. A British spokesman refused to say whether the positions were converging, saying only that 'we're talking about a situation where people started a long way apart'. But he added: 'I think we can get there in the end.'

The British proposals fall into four parts. There will be references in the summit's conclusion to the principles of subsidiarity, openness and the EC's commitment to growth. Declarations will be made on social policy, the environment, and distribution of income - all areas where Danes are concerned that the treaty will water down their national standards. And a declaration by Denmark will lay out the country's own understanding of treaty provisions on citizenship and immigration.

But the hard core of the British proposals is a statement setting out Denmark's exemptions from certain sections of the treaty. The legal form of this statement was highly controversial. The more federalist states, such as Belgium, feared it would constitute a free- standing treaty. German lawyers present at the summit were divided on this issue. Five or six countries said they feared that there would have to be a new ratification process.

Denmark's demands have had to be set against those of other member states that a deal must be consistent with the treaty, require no further ratification, and not clash with Maastricht objectives. It must also be specific to Denmark and limited in duration, a British official said.

One source of potential difficulty was limiting the duration of a Danish deal, probably until the end of an intergovernmental conference scheduled for 1996, when the Maastricht treaty is to be renegotiated. But this seemed to have been accepted by Mr Ellemann-Jensen, as did the requirement that it would be specific to Denmark.

The main sources of difficulty were over how binding a deal would be, and how far it would compromise EC aims in the fields of defence and currency union. Denmark added some new complications, saying that the EC should acknowledge publicly the importance of the 'no' vote in last June's referendum. It also added caveats on defence and social policy.

A Danish settlement should allow a new referendum on the Maastricht treaty, perhaps as early as March. A 'yes' vote is by no means a certainty; but the support of Denmark's opposition parties for the deal gives it a racing chance. This should give ratification in Britain renewed impetus.

Perhaps as important to the votes in Denmark and Britain are new agreements on subsidiarity, the principle that lays out the circumstances in which the Community should act.

Agreement on the Danish problem, combined with the chance of a deal on the EC's budget, should clear the way for negotiations with the EC's new prospective members. These are to begin on 1 January 1993, British officials said yesterday.

Finland, Sweden, Austria, Norway and Switzerland are all set to begin talks. But Switzerland's rejection of a planned European Economic Area has cast a shadow on its membership prospects, and opinion in favour of the EC is lagging in each country.

None of the new applicants will be extended the same privileges as Denmark, a source of contention amongst the Danish opposition parties. But with the EC now set to embark on several different tracks for integration, there is growing concern that the dream of a single European political and economic entity is fading.

(Photograph omitted)