Maastricht: Major rules out two-speed path for Community: Prime Minister in Paris

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PARIS - John Major said yesterday that he and President Francois Mitterrand had ruled out any notion of 'a two-speed Europe'. During a 90-minute meeting at the Elysee Palace, Mr Major and the French President discussed the preparation of the extraordinary European summit at Birmingham on 16 October.

The two leaders were 'absolutely at one that the Community needs to move together as 12', Mr Major said. 'We both regard that as very important.'

Earlier, the French Foreign Ministry spokesman, Daniel Bernard, had eased tension over British difficulties with completing ratification of the Maastricht treaty by saying France would not hold Britain to the 31 December ratification date and was prepared to wait a further month.

An Elysee official said it would 'not be a tragedy' if ratification were delayed. Mr Bernard said France was 'prepared to seek all means to ensure the speediest and most harmonious way to ratify the treaty'.

The Prime Minister, who was visiting Paris in his capacity as current EC president, said after Mr Mitterrand accompanied him to the steps of the presidential palace that the French leader had not shown any frustration with Britain's position since the French voted to ratify the European Union treaty by referendum on 20 September. 'I detected no impatience, but a lot of understanding, a lot of agreement,' he said. Mr Mitterrand made no public statement.

Mr Major left Paris for London to meet Poul Schluter, the Danish Prime Minister, to discuss ways to overcome the Danish rejection Maastricht.

French government officials have been going out of their way over the past few days to stress their comprehension of Mr Major's delicate political position, with the tide of opinion turning against Maastricht, particularly within his own party, and after the effective devaluation of sterling.

The currency crisis, particularly, stirred up tension between London and Bonn. The Bundesbank then helped France fend off attacks on its own currency. French monetary analysts, however, said that the franc was in better health than sterling and that the support was justified to defeat unprincipled speculation.

Elisabeth Guigou, the French European Affairs Minister, said earlier this week that she believed Mr Major was 'a convinced partisan' of ratification. Members of the pro-ratification centre-right opposition in France have also expressed private alarm at Mr Major's difficulties and, across the board in France, politicians seem to be trying to ensure that nothing is done to exacerbate his position.

Mr Major said of himself and other EC leaders: 'I don't think any of us wants to see what is loosely called a 'two-speed Europe'.' Some concerns raised by Maastricht had been addressed in his talks with Mr Mitterrand, including the need for the Community to be 'more open in its decision-making and more clear in observing national identities'.