Maastricht: Schluter elusive on timetable: Second Danish referendum

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The Independent Online
POUL SCHLUTER, the Prime Minister of Denmark, last night discussed with John Major the need to introduce supplements to the text of the Maastricht treaty in the light of Euro-scepticism, which he said had gripped not just Denmark but many of the Community's member-states.

He would not be pinned down on a timetable for a second Danish referendum on the treaty, which he has said will be held next year. The Danish electorate rejected the treaty in June this year. 'This is an open question,' he told a news conference before dining with the Prime Minister in London. 'Whether May, June or perhaps September next year is too early to say. We believe the moment is right to take initiatives to try to supplement the Maastricht treaty text. We've realised in the past few months that a number of European countries feel a certain scepticism with regard to the whole arrangement.'

The British Government has played for time by saying it will wait until it learns what the Danes have in mind before putting the treaty to parliament. Mr Major said this did not mean Britain would wait for the actual outcome of a Danish vote. As Danish voters must be asked to vote on something different when their next referendum is called, a supplemented treaty would give Copenhagen the basis for calling a new vote.

Mr Schluter insisted, however, that he would raise the need for supplements for the benefit of the whole of the EC. Dismissing the legal difficulties of adding to the treaty as 'not important', he said such supplements could take many different forms, such as 'one or more addenda' or 'legally binding governmental agreements'.

Legal experts working for the British presidency of the EC are grappling full-time with the problem of how to achieve clarifications of the treaty that are legally binding yet do not constitute a legal change, which would necessitate re-ratification by those countries which have already ratified it. It is hoped that this will be resolved by the Edinburgh summit in December. But Mr Schluter insisted: 'The right procedure is that we discuss the issues' content and then later establish the legal frame,' he said. The supplements should deal with 'more openness with regard to the decision-making process, less bureaucracy, decentralisation, how to make use of the principle of subsidiarity, and what role the European Commission should play'.

'I believe all 12 of us will benefit from what I call supplements,' he said.

He made the point that, given the very narrow Danish 'no' vote last time, his government only needed to sway a few tens of thousands of voters to have the treaty approved. The difference between the Danish result and the narrow 'yes' vote in France was therefore not great, although he admitted 'that President Mitterrand was in a better position formally'.

Like Mr Major's government, the Danes are clearly pinning much hope on the principle of subsidiarity, or decentralisation from Brussels. Mr Schluter's Foreign Minister, Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, likened the Maastricht treaty to 'a piece of furniture with shelves'.

There were 'empty shelves with a name on it, like subsidiarity,' the minister said. If the Community 'put flesh on subsidiarity', the treaty would be more acceptable to the citizens of Europe.

But Mr Schluter acknowledged that there were differences with Britain over the European exchange rate mechanism, in which he reiterated that Denmark intended to remain a hard-core member.

'We think the European Monetary System co-operation has been very successful . . . We would like not to weaken it but to strengthen it. We would like all Twelve to be members.'

(Photograph omitted)