Sunday, June 22, 2003
Catch the Pigeon - 22nd June 2003, 20.04

Tony Blair, renamed for the British Prime Minister, has shown an unerring sense of direction, by racing across the English Channel to New York. His namesake, at Thessalonika this week, proved just as competent, in his ability to defend British interests.

Whilst the draft of the European Constitution was finally published, Blair found that his enthusiastic support was undermined as the cost of 'signing up' became apparent. Not only were the vast intrusions of European power into domestic policy swallowed as a necessity, but the financial rebate that Margaret Thatcher had negotiated more than two decades earlier was also consigned to the past.

But sources close to the UK delegation admitted that the government remains "deeply concerned" about the powers they were being forced to give up, including the right to veto EU changes affecting Britain’s asylum policy, employment laws and, crucially, the rebate thrashed out by Thatcher in 1984. An obscure clause that could allow other states to over-rule the UK veto over its "revenue abatement" survived the discussions.

Moreover, France and Germany are supporting Joschka Fischer as the first candidate for the new role of European Foreign Minister. Fischer, noted for his anti-American attitudes and revolutionary past, could be counted upon to promote the minority view that irked so many European countries during the Iraqi war. His candidacy can be viewed as an unwillingness on the part of France or Germany to adopt more consensual policies in this area.

In a curious inversion of meaning, Blair stated that the Thessalonika meeting now safeguarded Britain's "sovereign rights" on taxation, defence, foreign policy and border controls". Nevertheless, it is clear that, alongside Poland and Spain, Britain falls into a minority that regards the draft Constitution as the beginning of a negotiated settlement, and not as the basis for minor changes.

It is clear that the European Union now resembles a Rorschach Test and can be described in both Gaullist or federalist terms. This article, from the New York Times, captures the perceptions of both Blair and Costas Simitis, Greece's Prime Minister,

That was the gist of antithetical comments made here on Friday by Prime Minister Costas Simitis of Greece and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain. As Mr. Simitis was telling one group of reporters that the evolving draft of the constitution reflected a shared belief among all the union's members in "a federal kind of Europe," Mr. Blair was telling another group of reporters that Britain was adamant about "a Europe of nations, not a federal superstate."

As the complexities and the divisions within the European Union increase, the probabilities of a fracture grow ever greater. There is also growing evidence that Blair is no longer heartened by a love for all things continental. In echoes of the recent reshuffle, he departed a day early to spend time with his family, and found that his European counterparts considered his defence of the British veto to be a continuation of the British foreign policy pursued by Thatcher and Major.

Blair is the most pro-European Prime Minister that Britain has suffered since Heath and, irony of ironies, he finds that he is still tarred with the scepticism that all continentals expect to hear.


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