Kohl backs strengthening EU institutions

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The Independent Online
CHANCELLOR Helmut Kohl yesterday reaffirmed Germany's continuing commitment to consolidating the institutions of Europe that have proved so troublesome for the sceptics in John Major's party.

He also highlighted the need for a breathing space in the enlargement of the Community, an issue on which Britain and Germany have made common cause so far.

Asked if the days of deepening the Union were now over in favour of enlargement, he declared: 'I certainly don't think so. Certainly not. Right now we are before a development that will have both possibilities in it. We have to do so.'

The leader of the country which Britain has portrayed as its closest ally on admitting the new democracies of central Europe, said after meeting John Major: 'Right now we are in the final phase of an enlargement' taking in the Nordic countries and Austria. If those countries vote in favour of joining, 'the need for a certain breathing space will arise' to study the consequences for the European Union's institutions and budget. Enlargement must not mean a financial burden beyond stability, he said.

'I don't want to pre-empt what others will say . . . I don't want to mention any date' for membership of the applicants from central Europe. We will have to discuss in public when and how further enlargement should come about, 'provided these countries actually want it'. Those countries would have to meet 'necessary preconditions'.

The meeting had been heralded by British officials as a joint exercise in promoting enlargement of the EU, Britain's traditional weapon against a deepening of European institutions such as the European Parliament, anathema to the right wing of Mr Major's party.

Germany, which takes over the EU presidency in June, is traditionally perceived as the Union's strongest advocate of the new democracies in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Yet German sources said the agenda for Bonn's six-month presidency had already been co- ordinated well in advance with France, which takes over at the helm immediately after Germany. France is traditionally a champion of deepening before widening.

On questions like crime, foreign and security policy, the environment, and 'the gap between rich and poor', he said a deepening of a role of European institutions was essential. 'We would not be able to cope with matters if we were on our own.' Mr Major grudgingly conceded that 'crime is an illustration of where it is practical to work together,' adding, 'call that deepening if you wish'.

Mr Kohl said newspaper reports that France and Germany had agreed on supporting Belgian prime minister Jean-Luc Dehaene as the successor to Jacques Delors for president of the European Commission were wrong. 'The German government has not in any way made any firm choice or tried to push any particular candidate,' he said.

Mr Major has openly backed Sir Leon Brittan for the job. Other possible contenders yet to declare their intentions include Peter Sutherland, the Gatt Director-General.

Mr Major, playing down the underlying differences, said he and Mr Kohl had a very similar approach to enlarging the EU. 'The Anglo-German relationship is in very good heart indeed,' he said.

Downing Street last night firmly denied a newspaper report that the Prime Minister was considering turning the general election campaign into a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU, writes Colin Brown. 'We just don't recognise the report,' said a spokesman.