Monday, May 10, 2004
It Takes A Continent of Millions To Hold Us Back

Antony Beevor provides a succinct update on why there is no good reason to vote for the Constitution, although his fears of upheaval and war are coloured by his history writings. This is an orthodox entry into the developments that have taken place in the negotiations for the Eurocon.

Blair finds himself on both the attack and the defensive in these negotiations. Most European countries view the British referendum as a white flag, with the British political classes acquiescing to their own marginalisation within Europe. The core view the Iraqi war as a betrayal of European interests and have moved to ensure that the Constitution institutionalises centralism and proves a "poison pill" for Blair and the British. Hence their enthusiasm for even more centralisation in the new draft:

Among the amendments are moves to greatly strengthen the powers of the proposed EU "foreign minister" - an unelected commissioner - enabling him or her to give orders to the foreign ministers of member countries, including Jack Straw, and to control the EU corps of diplomats.

The powers of the European Parliament in rejecting the Commission's budget - itself a contentious issue - would be greatly increased and there are even possible threats to Britain's right to levy taxes independently.

At the same time, Blair has been formulating his own demands in order to increase the chances of a British 'yes' vote. These demands are for clauses that strengthen the "redlines" which the government has so conscientiously spun since the Convention. In alliance with Brown, Blair has intimated that the British could veto the Constitution, if these conditions are not met. Threat or bluster? It appears that the federalists are deepening their grip on the Constitution and wish to fight off the demands of the Blair administration, providing no concessions for a political decision that jeopardised D'Estaing's pet.

One should recall that Blair is outflanked in his own Cabinet and Parliament by the Eurofederalists and the Brownites. Both of these loose groupings overlap and take advantage of the current pressures to further suggest political tactic that would undermine the PM's position. Charles Clarke has promoted the concept of a dual referendum in private meetings, for the Euro as well as the Constitution. The Eurofanatics also wish to appoint a Cabinet level Minister for Europe, with a high profile, whose raison d'etre would be to spend our money on telling us why we should vote 'Yes'.

The idea of a "two-question" referendum is being openly backed by pro-EU Labour MPs, including the former Europe minister Keith Vaz, and Chris Bryant, a prominent member of Britain in Europe. The issue was raised at a private meeting with Mr Blair last week, but he rejected it, at least for now. He warned it would undermine the careful policy set out by the Government nearly seven years ago, that a referendum on the euro would only be called once economic conditions were right.

Expect more tactical arguments, diversions and spin as the battle hots up and the government becomes more desperate.

(23.02, 10th May 2004)


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