German parties press for a treaty rethink

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CHANCELLOR Helmut Kohl's attempts to hold the 'no renegotiation' line on the Maastricht treaty came under strong pressure from all the German political parties yesterday.

At the same time, there was concern in Bonn at signs that John Major was weakening his commitment to the treaty, thereby failing to provide the impulse needed and expected from him, given Britain's current presidency of the European Community.

Mr Kohl emphasised yesterday that he did 'not believe in changing the Maastricht text'. He did, however, acknowledge the need for 'changes in interpretation' to take account of the sorts of concerns manifested in the French referendum. He highlighted the principle of subsidiarity as an example of how the application of the accords could be made more 'citizen-friendly', and he gave a clear signal that the pro-Maastricht forces are on the move again by preparing to travel to Paris today for talks with President Francois Mitterrand.

Bjorn Engholm, the leader of the opposition Social Democrats in Germany, said yesterday that the weak French 'yes' to Maastricht made 'improvements' to the treaties essential. He said: 'We shall have to think critically again about certain questions and revise them.'

The recent turmoil in the currency markets, Mr Engholm said, made clear that there can be no automatic process towards currency union, as the treaty stipulates. Before moving to the third and final stage of a common currency and a European central bank, the Bonn parliament must have the right 'to look again at whether the timing and the conditions are appropriate,' he said.

Reflecting the powerful opposition among the population to the Maastricht commitment to give up the German mark for a common European currency by 1999 at the latest, there were calls yesterday from all sides for parliament to give itself, when ratifying the treaties, what amounts to an opt-in clause.

The Defence Minister, Volker Ruhe, threw doubt on the idea of a timetable for monetary union. 'The direction of Maastricht is correct, but the speed must depend on how quickly problems can be sorted out,' he said, adding that parliament must have a right of revision over the monetary union commitments.

Worries in Bonn about Mr Major's commitment to Maastricht surfaced in comments by the Europe minister at the Foreign Ministry, Ursula Seiler-Albring. She described as 'extremely worrying' Mr Major's intention to delay ratification of the treaty in London until a solution to the Danish 'no' vote had been found.

She said that there had been express agreement among EC countries to push ahead speedily with ratification despite the Danish vote. 'One has to ask John Major just how seriously he takes the British presidency of the EC,' she said. In private, Bonn government officials voiced concern yesterday that Mr Major was letting himself be pushed into the renegotiation camp, and that Britain was trying to cover up its weakness by hiding behind the Danes.

Mr Kohl's opinion is that ratification of Maastricht must be completed as soon as possible, bolstered by a greatly improved effort to reassure people that European union will respect national differences. 'In this integrated Europe, we will of course remain Germans, French and Britons,' he said yesterday.

The German Chancellor is concerned, above all, that any attempt to reopen discussion on some aspects of Maastricht will lead to the whole package unravelling. Given the rapid erosion of support in Germany for ambitious European union, Mr Kohl knows that, second time around, he will not be able to persuade Germans to accept anything approaching the level of commitments contained in the present treaties.

(Photograph omitted)