European Union summit breaks up as Britain blocks move to fill key post

June 26, 1994|By New York Times News Service

CORFU, Greece -- The European Union summit broke up in disarray yesterday with Britain, the Continent's traditional maverick, standing alone against its 11 partners on the choice of a successor to Jacques Delors, the president of the European Commission and one of the Continent's most influential power brokers.

The debacle left an impression of a body that, rather than exemplifying pan-European ideals, is again faltering because of the individual political agendas of its members.

"I believe I have come to the right decision, and I will not change it," British Prime Minister John Major told European leaders when they met yesterday in a final, vain attempt to persuade him to accept Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene for the post. "My judgment will not change under any circumstances," he said.

The British decision emerged after frenzied maneuvers through a late-night dinner, formal meetings and private consultations, injecting strife and embarrassing division into a gathering that was supposed to spotlight successes -- a trade deal signed with Russia on Friday and invitations for four more countries to join the European Union.

"There is no point in inviting me to reconsider," Mr. Major said, according to British officials, who explained the move by saying Britain had found Mr. Dehaene unacceptable and believed the process leading to his candidacy had been "defective."

If European governments do not now agree on a new candidate, British and German officials said, the succession issue will be taken up at a special European summit on July 15 after Germany assumes the rotating, six-month presidency of the union from Greece on July 1.

Mr. Delors' job is important because it sets the tone of European policy-making and, during his tenure, has been invested with an aura of prestige far beyond its theoretical status as the pinnacle of the European Union's rambling bureaucracy.

The deadlock leaves the European Union facing a bitter, internal dispute as it looks ahead to 1996 and major discussions on the pace of European integration and monetary union.

Whoever gets Mr. Delors' job when he leaves at the end of the year will have a strong say in the agenda for those discussions, just as Mr. Delors played a central role in promoting efforts that culminated in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty.

The British accuse France and Germany, Europe's traditional kingmakers, of allying themselves in an unrepresentative pact and using leaks to the news media and arm-twisting in the hope of installing a figure who would match their visions of European unity.

Mr. Major, on the other hand, is widely held to have resisted Mr. Dehaene's candidacy because in Britain he is depicted as pressing too zealously for European integration, a characteristic that is unappealing to the so-called Euroskeptics within Mr. Major's floundering Conservative Party.

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