Friday, October 15, 2004
Triangulating Bush and Kerry

The Progressive Governance Conference that took place in Budapest today demonstrated that Blair was repositioning his political position to account for a possible Kerry victory in the US elections. At the same time, he also sketched out his current position on the European Constitution and the role of Europe.

Blair has maintained that the European Union, integrated under the Constitution, can act as an ally rather than as a counterweight to the United States. This is known as the Atlanticist viewpoint, as opposed to the multipolar great power envisaged by the French. Blair has concluded that this objective can only be achieved by harnessing the new Member States and ushering a new vision of Europe to redress the old. Neither of these ideologies contradict the centralising and integrationist path of the European Union, since they concern its future relationships with the United States, not its impending structures.

To this end, Blair made overtures to the socialist Prime Minister of Spain, Jose Zapatero, and argued that a Europe, divided between core and periphery, should be opposed.

Mr Blair called yesterday for the US and Europe to work together in the wake of Iraq as he sent a strong message to France and Germany that there could not be a two-speed EU.In a joint newspaper article with Hungarian counterpart and summit host Ferenc Gyurcsany, he said that in the expanded union of 25 states “all are equal”. “We should reject any suggestion of inner or outer cores of Europe,” the article said.

In a further snub to the 'soft core', Blair also published an article with the Hungarian Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany. This provided more details on his version of Europe: setting out reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, maintaining an alliance with the United States and uniting Europe under one Constitution.

In anticipation of Britain's presidency of the G8 in 2005, Blair's trailblazer, Mandelson, noted that the United States was taking greater account of the international community on the issues of climate change and global poverty. The implicit criticism that the United States had neglected these subjects was covered by Mandelson's anticipation of a United States engaging with the international community. Whilst neutral in terms of the presidential election, the readership would have noted a deliberate echo of Kerry's voice, whilst the Bush administration understood that there have always been differences of policy which Blair now wished to emphasise.

In an article for the conference in Progressive Politics, Mr Blair's confidante Peter Mandelson said: "America has learnt from the errors of the war in Iraq. America now understands that it needs allies: not just coalitions of the willing that will support the US in its own policy decisions, but a wider international community that wants its voice to be heard and recognised." He said a stable democratic Iraq could best be achieved by greater involvement of the UN and greater efforts to inter-nationalise the coalition effort, particularly on the part of Europe.

Mandelson had already publicised another argument that could be used to defend Blair's flank on Iraq: that the British government had sought international legitimacy for the war, only to be defeated by the spoiling actions of the French, acting out of short-term and corrupt interests, as the oil for weapons scandal demonstrated. This has some mileage, since most of the accusations against the French appear to stack up. We will see if it is used in the next few days.

He said: "Who can doubt that the insurgency in Iraq would today be a lesser problem had a second resolution been agreed and the UN been in the driving seat from the start and throughout." Mr Blair has always insisted that no second UN resolution was needed to authorise the military action, and blamed the French for blocking attempts to win one.

Despite all of the unspoken flim-flammery on the part of the Conservatives, we can see clear blue water between their demands for a Europe based on variable geometry and the unitary constitutional monolith, favoured by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

(23.41, 15th October 2004)


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