Date: Mon, 28 Oct 1996 22:54:31 -0800 (PST)
From: MichaelP <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: US says Euro action is inappropriate
LUXEMBOURG (Reuter) - EU Foreign Ministers agreed on Monday to make it illegal for Europeans to obey Washington's anti-Cuban Helms-Burton Act.
Day-long negotiations persuaded Denmark that tit-for-tat counter-measures to the U.S. legislation would not compromise its sovereignty.
Trade Commissioner Sir Leon Brittan said the decision was "an historic breakthrough which shows we have the will and capacity to defend our interests."
The Helms-Burton Act was passed earlier this year to a chorus of indignation from some of America's closest friends and largest trade partners.
Among other things, it allows naturalised Americans to sue in U.S. courts foreign companies or individuals deemed to have gained from investments in property confiscated in Cuba since Fidel Castro's communist revolution of 1959.
The EU law will prohibit European individuals or companies from complying with the act -- which has been suspended by U.S. President Bill Clinton until January -- and allow them to reclaim damages in EU courts.
EU diplomats believe Clinton -- ahead in all polls to retain the U.S. presidency -- passed the act only because of Congressional pressure in an election year and is likely to further suspend it further in the new year.
Brittan said he hoped that now "the EU has levelled the playing field," he would be able to negotiate an equitable solution to the trade row.
The European Commission -- the EU's executive -- has also filed a complaint on the matter with the World Trade Organisation. A dispute panel is due to convene on November 20.
Danish reservations had threatened to scupper the EU's response but Brittan said amendments made to bring Denmark on board were minor.
"We have convinced all the partners that the legal and constitutional novelty (of the EU measures) does not affect sovereignty," Brittan said. "We have achieved this without the regulation being in any way weakened."
Denmark had objected to a catch-all clause in the law which it said handed national powers to the EU. The Danish government is embroiled in a court case with 11 of its citizens who have complained that Copenhagen is giving away sovereignty.
Legal experts from the Commission trawled through EU legislation on Monday and unearthed a little-used treaty declaration dating back to 1968 which was included in the final wording of the anti-Helms-Burton regulation.
Among other things, it says the circumstances of using the clause to which Denmark objects are exceptional and only to be used on specific occasions.
The wording of the final resolution appeared to laymen to be little different from that originally proposed, and diplomats said the spirit of the EU's opposition to the act was undiluted.
"We had to practically break their thumbs to get them to agree," said one diplomat, "but we have been aware all along that Denmark is against the act as the rest of us. It was the means rather than the end that counted for them."
The United States said on Monday it was not appropriate for Europe to retaliate against Washington's anti-Cuba Helms-Burton act.
"We believe Helms-Burton can be implemented in a way that satisfies international obligations, those of the U.S. We don't believe it's appropriate for the Europeans to retaliate," State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns told reporters.
He faulted the Europeans for not joining with the United States in pressing harder for democracy and improved human rights on the communist-ruled Caribbean island.
"We wish the Europeans also had an expressed public interest and made a priority the situation of the many many people in Cuba whose rights are being denied by the Castro government ... We'd like to see more talk from the Europeans about democracy in Cuba," he said.