Ministers deny secret EC agenda

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S hopes of a smooth-running European Community summit in Birmingham were further jeopardised last night as the French, German and Spanish foreign ministers held secret talks in Paris on a joint summit strategy.

The dinner meeting was disclosed as Spain emerged increasingly as a state that would exact a high price for signing on to Britain's much-vaunted notion of subsidiarity at the summit. The dinner, attended by Roland Dumas, Klaus Kinkel and Javier Solana, came after the British government held its own series of pre-Birmingham bilateral talks with its European partners.

The French-German-Spanish combination is a repeat of a pre-summit lunch attended by the three countries' foreign ministers just before last year's Maastricht summit. They then mapped out a joint strategy on defence to strengthen the position of the West European Union against Britain's pro-Nato stance.

Spain has already expressed misgivings about subsidiarity, or decentralisation from Brussels, upsetting the balance of EC institutions and weakening the financial commitments towards the poorer EC countries. At Birmingham, it will be seeking reassurances that promises enshrined in the Maastricht treaty to fund infrastructure development from EC coffers will be honoured. Details of last night's dinner, however, were shrouded in secrecy.

The flurry of last-minute European diplomacy before Friday's summit was also upset by reports that the European Commission had drawn up a 'secret treaty' to allow some EC members to leave and set up their own community.

Rumours that France and Germany were considering leading a small group of the members towards a swift monetary union have been repeatedly denied in Paris and Bonn since last month's crisis in the European exchange- rate mechanism. Spokesmen at the two countries' foreign ministries repeated yesterday that they had no secret alternative to the Maastricht treaty to take to the Birmingham summit.

Diplomats in Brussels said that, if it existed, such a plan would fall foul of exactly the problem that has faced the Maastricht treaty: changes to the 1957 Treaty of Rome, which set up the Community, have to be agreed by each of its signatories.