Hurd told UK must not hold the Community hostage

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DOUGLAS HURD, in the middle of capital-hopping to garner support for next week's EC summit, has been warned by some of Britain's partners not to hold the entire Community hostage to the Government's problems with its own 'Euro- sceptics'. The partners have told Britain that its fixation with the concept of 'subsidiarity', or decentralisation from Brussels - which the Government is deploying as a way to placate domestic opponents of the Maastricht treaty - should not be used to arrest or undermine progress in the EC.

Mr Hurd, who travels to the Netherlands and Brussels today and tomorrow, held talks on Wednesday night with his Spanish counterpart, Javier Solana. A British official said the Spanish had made clear that 'they don't suffer to the extent we do from a public opinion which is anxious about interference in nooks and crannies' - Mr Hurd's favoured expression to describe an overly meddlesome Brussels. 'There is an underlying Spanish anxiety, or keenness, not to allow subsidiarity to be used as a 'backdoor way' to bringing the EC to a halt' or as a way of 'undermining the balance between institutions', the official said.

The Spanish position reflects criticism among several EC partners that although they wish to help Britain over its problems in getting Maastricht ratified, the British presidency is not doing its job. Next week's emergency summit in Birmingham was meant to address economic and monetary concerns in earnest, but that will now have to take a back seat to Britain's agenda of enshrining its interpretation of subsidiarity. That meaning is not shared by all: many smaller or poorer states say the British definition is too focused on muzzling the Commission - an institution which they feel strengthens their position vis-a-vis bigger members.