Tuesday, November 25, 2003
Rowing the boat back upstream to Nice

At first, the extraordinary statements emanating from Whitehall seemed to be the latest in a long series of negotiating ploys designed to strengthen Britain's hand in the intergovernmental negotiations over the European Constitution. The defence of the "redlines", placed in The Times and The Daily Telegraph, was designed to shore up perceptions that Blair was not negotiating in Europe on Britain's behalf. It was rather poor spinning from a government that used to pride itself on setting each day's political agenda, since the placement of the statements was obvious and crude.

The primary question was whether these expressions were issued for the domestic political agenda or were they designed to send a message to other countries within Europe. Given the internecine divisions that have dogged the negotiations over the last few weeks, especially as Spain and Poland refuse to give up their voting rights under the Nice Treaty, the possibility of political failure has become a plausible scenario. Blair could be attempting to capitalise on this failure by portraying himself as a dogged defender of Britain's interests, knowing that the chances of further integraton have actually diminished.

The same position was written into Brown's speech, with a similar emphasis on so far and no further to extensions of qualified majority voting, rather than say, further integration:

"We are making clear in these discussions that we are standing up for British interests.

"We have red lines and we are insisting on unanimity for tax, social security and defence."

On the whole, these speeches were for domestic consumption, rather than acting as manifestos for pre-negotiating positions. They were priming the public for the possible failure of negotiations over the European Constitution (rowing the boat back upstream to Nice) and providing an additional patriotic fillip for the beleaguered government whose earlier enthusiasm looks increasingly out of step with political reality.

However, the fact that the government is considering this posssibility must be good news.

(22.55, 25th November 2003)


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