BREAKTHROUGHS achieved by leaders of the European Community at their weekend summit here have put the 12 nations back on track in their quest for unity and expansion after months of uncertainty, some leaders said.
British Prime Minister John Major, who hosted the summit, told a press conference that the EC had "turned a corner" after a long period of internal uncertainty and tension over issues such as the Maastricht Treaty on economic and political union.
Hopes are high among EC governments that the treaty will be ratified by Denmark in a second referendum in April or May 1993, and by Britain soon afterward. Opponents of the treaty, however, are promising to carry on with their opposition.
Danish Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, whose country plunged the EC into crisis by rejecting the treaty in a referendum six months ago, said he was "confident" that the Danish electorate would approve a special deal worked out at Edinburgh to allow Denmark to opt out of key provisions of the Maastricht Treaty. Under the Edinburgh formula, Denmark would not be bound to accept a single European currency or to join in EC defense arrangements.
There was some apprehension, however, about the mood of Danish voters after they had had a chance to examine the fine print of the opt-out arrangements now being offered their country.
Leo Tindemans, a former Belgian prime minister and current leader of the Christian Democrat group in the European Parliament, said in an interview on British television that the Danish opt-out clauses approved in Edinburgh would be illegal unless they were ratified by all 12 member states.
Mr. Major would not commit to a date for completing the ratification process in the British Parliament. First, British ministers insist, Major will await the outcome of the proposed second Danish referendum. "Obviously if the Danes vote yes, that will improve the chances of British ratification," a British official said. "But if they vote no, the treaty will be dead."
Although British critics of the Maastricht Treaty said they would continue to fight its passage through the House of Commons, Major was able to list several achievements at the two-day summit and to argue that the EC had recovered on integration:
* He announced agreement on a plan to boost spending on EC projects in poorer member countries with a "growth package" which will increase in annual stages to 64 billion pounds ($98.5 billion) over four years, starting in 1994. Major said the package would generate 24 billion pounds ($36 billion) of new investment on transport and infrastructure.
* Talks on enlarging the EC to include Austria, Norway, Sweden, and Finland will begin in January.
* The European Parliament will be enlarged, giving Germany 18 more seats to represent the added 17 million people living in eastern Germany. (The French city of Strasbourg was confirmed as the Parliament's permanent home.)
* Major also claimed credit for winning acceptance of a series of measures aimed at devolving the power of the EC bureaucracy in Brussels to member governments. Twenty pieces of EC legislation giving Brussels an overriding say in such matters as environmental policy are to be scrapped, the leaders decided.
A senior British official said Major, president of the EC until year's end, was "extremely happy" with what had been achieved. But another British source acknowledged that final agreement had been "purchased at a price." That price, the source said, was a larger EC growth package than Britain had wanted.
The compromise struck calls for a two-year EC budget freeze, followed by steady increases until 1999.
Although summit delegates were upbeat, signs of trouble continued outside. On Saturday, an estimated 30,000 demonstrators paraded through central Edinburgh, protesting high unemployment in Britain and other EC countries. Many of the demonstrators carried banners denouncing the Maastricht Treaty.