Thursday, June 23, 2005
The Anti-Europe

The Prime Minister set out his 'Eurovision' in contest with the French, and promised to report back to the European Parliament on developments, forgetting that he has a constitutional duty to address Westminster first. But Blair has never observed accountability as anything but a politically expedient value that can be raised when convenient or useful.

Refashioning the past is another tactic that proved very useful in distancing Labour from its Fabian past. Now Blair uses recollection as a weapon to disassociate himself from the anti-European Labour party of 1983.

I am a passionate pro-European. I always have been. My first vote was in 1975 in the British referendum on membership and I voted yes. In 1983, when I was the last candidate in the UK to be selected shortly before that election and when my party had a policy of withdrawing from Europe, I told the selection conference that I disagreed with the policy. Some thought I had lost the selection. Some perhaps wish I had. I then helped change our policy in the 1980's and was proud of that change.

But the content of the speech demonstrates clearly that Blair has opted to follow the same line as his fellow politicians on the referenda results and the role of the EU in the wider world. There is nothing new in his speech. Europe must have an economic and a political dimension, providing economic growth and social protection through the values of solidarity. By using the discourse that all Europhiles follow, Blair legitimates a narrative where peace in Europe was achieved through the EU, an argument with little basis in fact. Indeed, he supports the view that the referenda did not reject the Constitution, that the "Noes" were a protest, not a rejection.

Blair supports integration, the pithily renamed "political Europe". But, it appears that the people of Europe are calling out for "political leadership". This speech must mark the high point of Blair's hubris. Having won a third election and seen off the scandals over Iraq, he now serves up the warmed over socialism of Brown's Treasury as the answer for Europe's ills. His litany of successes turn Britain into a shining economy within a silver sea, all achieved through increased taxation and higher public spending. This is his cure for Europe.

It is just that we have done it on the basis of and not at the expense of a strong economy.

In addition, common defences, authoritarian populism and a solid macroeconomic structure, that coded message for putting sterling into history, round out Blair's answer for Europe's ills: exporting New Labour.

Only one thing I ask: don't let us kid ourselves that this debate is unnecessary; that if only we assume 'business as usual', people will sooner or later relent and acquiesce in Europe as it is, not as they want it to be. In my time as Prime Minister, I have found that the hard part is not taking the decision, it is spotting when it has to be taken. It is understanding the difference between the challenges that have to be managed and those that have to be confronted and overcome. This is such a moment of decision for Europe.
The people of Europe are speaking to us. They are posing the questions. They are wanting our leadership. It is time we gave it to them.

Blair understood his audience and downplayed the issue of Enlargement, making scant reference to further expansion. This is not the enthusiastic hymn for Turkey that the International Herald Tribune portrayed. Der Spiegel uses a German government position paper to look beneath the spin and argues that Britain's role as an agricultural reformer is unsubstantiated. However, by arguing that no reforms have been tabled in the last eighteen months (when CAP is frozen until 2013), the paper undermines its own tale of German success in slicing thin wafers of French lardesse. Their conclusion strikes a chord though:

The government, the working paper states, "won't rule out" further reforms. Nevertheless, the British have made no proposals for agricultural reforms during the past 15 months. They didn't present any proposals during EU constitutional convention or at the intergovernmental conference that followed it. Now they've come up with their arguments for reform like a "magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat." Anyone who negotiates in this manner, it continues, "doesn't want an agreement, and is instead looking for a pretense for failure."


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