Britain to Delay Debate on Unity Treaty
PRIME Minister John Major has decided to put further British parliamentary consideration of the Maastricht Treaty on ice until the results of referendums in Ireland (June 18) and France (this fall) are known.
In the meantime, Downing Street sources said yesterday, Britain would remain a staunch supporter of the agreements negotiated at Maastricht last December.
Also it would support a two-year extension of Jacques Delors' presidency of the European Commission.
The sources said Britain will use its influence as president of the EC Council of Ministers from July 1 to Dec. 31 to try to repair the damage done to Europe's drive toward unity by the June 2 referendum in Denmark.
British tactics for dealing with the confusion stirred by Denmark's rejection of the Maastricht Treaty became clear a few hours after Mr. Major's return to London Saturday from the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
The prime minister's decision to delay further debate on legislation to ratify Maastricht was widely seen as an attempt to placate Conservative members of Parliament who oppose the treaty.
But his support for the renomination of Mr. Delors provoked anger among some of the MPs he was trying to please.
Sir Teddy Taylor, leader of the Tory Reform Group which is campaigning against a federal Europe, said Delors personified what was wrong with the EC.
"He and his ideas should have no place in the kind of Europe Britain is part of," Sir Teddy said.
Postponement of the Commons' debate on the treaty until after France's referendum, which is expected in September or October, followed a week of turmoil in Conservative Party ranks.
In Rio, the prime minister found it necessary to issue a long-distance unity call to his own MPs, 100 of whom say they are unhappy with the ratification bill. Major has a 21-seat majority in the House of Commons and needs his party's full support.
Major's backing for Delors seems likely to ensure that his contract will be renewed, EC sources said over the weekend.
Well ahead of its assumption of the EC presidency, Britain is trying to seize the initiative in efforts to pick up the pieces after the Danish rejection of the treaty.
Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd was meeting his European counterparts in Luxembourg today, with the Maastricht crisis high on the agenda.
Major was also trying to encourage enthusiasm for the Maastricht Treaty among his own pro-EC MPs.
Hugh Dykes, chairman of the European Movement, on Saturday described the Danish referendum result as "eccentric" and said Denmark would return a "yes" vote in a second referendum.
But Michael Spicer, a senior Conservative MP who is leading the revolt against the Maastricht bill, notes "a new mood sweeping throughout Europe for nations to work more closely together" but to resist "further encroachment by unelected bureaucracy."