Major struggles to find formula for subsidiarity

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The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR today begins a week of intensive diplomatic activity aimed at satisfying his Conservative backbench critics over subsidiarity at Friday's Birmingham European Community summit, but with no agreement yet in sight among his EC partners over how it should operate.

Foreign Office sources say there is no chance of the list that some Tory backbenchers want, of matters that will be left, or will revert, to national governments. They say Friday's meeting is aimed only at producing 'a framework', to be developed between Birmingham and the Edinburgh summit in December. Even then, much negotiation is still needed on a form of words if agreement is to be reached on Friday.

The Prime Minister's difficulties were underlined yesterday by Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, the Danish Foreign Minister and theoretically one of Mr Major's closest allies as Denmark seeks 'flesh and blood' on the subsidiarity idea as part of its terms for a second Maastricht referendum. 'To be very blunt, a number of countries are very suspicious towards this discussion,' he said on the Walden programme. 'They fear . . . that the British presidency is trying to re-nationalise a lot of the European co-operation that has been established already, so you are under suspicion for using this. This makes it a difficult issue.'

Denmark, for example, wants detailed mechanisms for deciding which issues can be dealt with nationally, but wants the environment - over which British ministers have complained bitterly about intereference by Brussels - dealt with at European level.

Germany's renewed enthusiasm for the idea rests on its regional government structure - something Britain lacks and which has also worried Spain because of its own regional problems.

Jacques Poos, Luxembourg's Foreign Minister, yesterday signalled the determination of several smaller EC countries to resist any large-scale devolution of power back from Brussels and the Council of Ministers. Any 'clarification' of subsidiarity must 'exclude any possibility of any dilution of the Community,' he said on BBC Radio's World this Weekend. He added: 'If we give the notion of subsidiarity too large a definition, this could mean a group of countries could turn down every new area of Community legislation in important fields like environment and social affairs.

'We would resist subsidiarity being interpreted as an obstacle to any European interference because we need not less, but more Europe.' The summit, he said, would no doubt find 'a phrasing' about subsidiarity, 'but it won't be the last word'. No big decisions about altering the politics of the Community would be taken at the summit.

Mr Major, however, needs to be able to present Birmingham as just such a decision to help convince those Tory MPs who signed the 'fresh start' early day motion in the summer but have moved back towards his line that Maastricht really is an anti-centralist, anti-federalist treaty.

Some MPs are now arguing that with the tide flowing Mr Major's way after last week's party conference clashes, the Maastricht Bill should be brought back sooner rather than later.

Mr Elleman-Jensen yesterday said that without some 'meat' on the idea of subsidiarity there would be no second referendum in Denmark - 'and then there won't be a Maastricht treaty'.

But providing rules that limited the EC's power was 'the 64,000-dollar question that is hopefully going to find its answer between Birmingham and Edinburgh'.