Resolving a nagging question, European Community finance ministers agreed Sunday to allow Great Britain to put off until later in the decade a decision whether to adopt a common EC currency.
But they rejected proposals to give all EC nations that option under an economic and monetary union treaty to be approved by EC leaders next week.
"It is clear there will be no general exemption clause," Danish Economics Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters.
The matter has emerged as one of the most controversial as EC nations near the end of talks on a treaty to give the trade bloc a single currency and central bank after 1996.
The agreement will allow Britain to sign the accord but attach a declaration spelling out its special rights.
EC leaders are due to meet in the Dutch town of Maastricht next Monday and Tuesday to approve the economic and monetary accord and a parallel treaty forging a closer political union of the 12 EC nations.
The finance ministers held talks in this seaside town in an effort to break down remaining obstacles to the economic and monetary deal.
Dutch Finance Minister Wim Kok, who chaired Sunday's session, said he hoped that the ministers will agree on a complete text after more talks set for today and Tuesday at the EC headquarters in Brussels.
On Sunday, the ministers reached a compromise on leadership of the European Monetary Institute, a body to be set up in 1994 to coordinate economic policies of EC nations and pave the way for the central bank.
The institute will be managed by a committee of EC central bank chiefs, but its president will be brought in from the outside, Kok said.
Germany had favored control by the central bankers, while many of its EC partners prefered leadership independent of the national banks.
Agreement to allow Britain alone to decide later whether to adopt the EC currency resolved a frustrating problem: how to reconcile Britain's concerns with the desire of its EC partners to press ahead.
Britain, fearing a loss of sovereignty, is the strongest opponent of treaties giving broad new powers to EC institutions.
The Dutch government, which holds the rotating EC presidency, last month proposed that the treaty give all EC members the right to decide later.
But many governments worried that provision would create uncertainty and could tempt countries other than Britain to back out at the last minute.