Maastricht: Hurd attempts to smooth over 'a rough patch': Anglo-German rift

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BERLIN - Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday sought to play down talk of a serious rift in Anglo-German relations and dismissed suggestions that London was keen to re-open negotiations on the Maastricht treaty on European unity.

Speaking in Bonn after what were described as 'friendly and constructive' talks with Klaus Kinkel, his German counterpart, Mr Hurd said that tensions resulting from Britain's decision to leave the European exchange rate mechanism (ERM) two weeks ago were part of a 'rough patch'.

The Foreign Secretary refused to comment on accusations made by Norman Lamont, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that Germany's policy of high interest rates had been responsible for Britain's withdrawal from the ERM.

'I did not come here to comment on other people's comments about other people's comments but to talk about how we can move forward,' Mr Hurd said. 'The relationship between Britain and Germany sometimes runs into a rough patch.'

Mr Kinkel, for his part, said that he was anxious to 'calm the waves' after the turbulence of the past few weeks and described as 'absolutely incorrect' speculation that Germany and France were pressing for the creation of a two- speed Europe in which Britain would be consigned to the slow lane.

Both men reiterated the official line that there should be no renegotiation of the Maastricht treaty, but said that that did not rule out the possibility of a joint declaration clarifying some of its more controversial points being issued at the EC summit in Birmingham later this month.

'At Birmingham we will try to solve, or to begin solving, the political problem of acceptability,' Mr Hurd said. 'We have to listen more effectively to what voices across Europe are telling us,' he added, 'not just in the countries which have had referenda, but in the countries like Britain and Germany, which have parliamentary procedures.'

German Foreign Ministry sources said that any joint declaration at Birmingham would seek to explain the so-called subsidiarity principle agreed at Maastricht, whereby decision-taking powers within the Community would be kept wherever possible to the lowest level.

'We have to try and reduce commonly held fears of Brussels as a bureaucratic machine about to take over,' said a ministry source. 'A declaration helping to explain Maastricht should make it more popular among European people.'

Mr Hurd said that the intention remained to ratify the Maastricht treaty in its current form 'as soon as possible' but did not say when he thought it would be put to the vote in the British parliament.