Wednesday, June 11, 2003
The Press Conference - 11th June 2003, 22.35

In a choreographed follow-up to the statement by the Chancellor in Parliament, the strongest partnership seen in politics for a generation finally agreed to swing its support behind the Euro. Despite the ability of the press to needle Blair (though not Brown, who comes across as quite unflappable), both politicians swept questions aside and managed to provide a strong claim for a pro-Euro, pro-European consensus.

Blair made two claims that are not backed up by evidence: that the European Union will be unable to set taxes in Britain, and that, by this new campaign, the government was raising the quality of debate on Europe.

There have been other viewpoints developing over the last few days. Hamish McRae of the Independent discerned a reform programme with Brown's statement that demanded changes on the part of the European authorities as part of a longer-term goal in establsihing a free trade area between Europe and America. Apart from detecting the arguments of the Anglosphere in a pro-European form, McRae appears to be reading a remarkable amount into Brown's statements.

That would indeed be the "programme of European economic reform" that the Chancellor referred to at the end of his speech yesterday. It would also help clear the path to the "fully effective transatlantic economic partnership between Europe and the USA" that the Chancellor called for early in the speech. That would indeed be radical - a free trade area joining Nafta and the EU - much more radical than the matter of whether the time is ever right for Britain to adopt the euro.

Whether this marks teh start of a concerted campaign to burnish the European credentials of the government or marks a short-term opportunity to allay continental criticism of their 'not yet' decision, it marks a turning point in the perception of Brown as a pro-European. He has shed the carefully constructed image of scepticism. Some are now argueing that Blair wishes to portray the argument over Europe as a diehard fight between integration and withdrawal but such a strategy does not hold water. Blair understands that the draft consitution has generated a lot of friction amongst the Member States, and may not acquire the consensus required for ratification. Given his past record, The present puffs on Europe are designed to maintain his pro-European credentials and ensure that his words speak louder than his inaction.


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