Speaking before tomorrow's European summit in Dublin, Mr Kohl said that if the talks on reforming the Maastricht treaty - known as "Maastricht 2" - make little progress, there would have to be a "Maastricht 3" conference at a later date.
Until now Mr Kohl has always stated that he believes further European political union must go hand in hand with monetary union. However, his latest remarks suggest he now accepts that Europe does not have the stomach for the upheaval of both monetary union and further political union at the same time.
Indications that Mr Kohl, the leading integrationist, is toning down his ambitions for immediate reform of the European Union will be welcomed by John Major, who has argued for a limited agenda from the start. Among the most far-reaching questions of reform probably to be delayed to Maastricht 3 - which would start well after the next general election - would be an increase in majority voting, one of the most contentious issues for the Tory government. Mr Major will join his European partners in Dublin tomorrow when the reform timetable will be on the agenda.
In another sign of lowering expectations, there has been growing support within the EU for postponing the conclusion of the current round of the Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC) until the end of Luxembourg's presidency in December 1997. It had been widely anticipated that the conclusion would take place under the Dutch presidency in Amsterdam in June 1997. France, in particular, has been hinting that Europe should reduce its ambitions for the IGC and settle for a "short, sharp" series of reforms, and return to the wider questions of integration later.
In Dublin this week Mr Kohl made it clear that he has not given up his drive for greater political union. He stressed that further European integration was both irreversible and vital for peace and prosperity. However, when asked what would happen if the current round of IGC talks should fail, Mr Kohl said that if the discussions "do not solve all the problems, then there will be a Maastricht 3."
Mr Kohl's comments come as little surprise to those who have been closely involved in the present round of IGC discussions. For several months diplomats have been commenting on the deep malaise which surrounds the talks, which have become little more than a "paper chase". "Texts have been produced on every issue you can think of. But there is no political impetus to think big," one EU official said.
The idea of the current IGC, launched amid great fanfair in Turin in March, was to re-write the 1991 Maastricht treaty in order to modernise and retune the EU's institutions to produce more integration and more efficiency in preparation for the accession of new member states from Eastern Europe early in the next millennium.
However, the IGC negotiators have been hampered by a lack of political impetus from their leaders. Not only in Britain, but in several other member states, public opinion has signalled growing disquiet with the speed of integration.
It is widely acknowledged that major reform will probably now not happen until the enlargement of the union is a reality. "When those countries are really knocking on the door, then the political will to make the reforms might be there," an EU diplomat said yesterday.
At the same time, it is accepted in many capitals that the task of seeing through the change to a single currency, due to be launched in 1999, will be so overwhelming that other forms of political reform will have to be limited.Reuse content