Tag Archives: Europe

Blair now standing alone

They won’t be celebrating Romano Prodi’s election victory in Downing Street. The relationship between the Blairs and the Berlusconis was mystifying to many Labour MPs. Some thought the Blairs were irresistibly attracted to the wealth and style of Silvio Berlusconi, and some pointed cynically at the deluxe ‘holiday home’ the Blairs enjoyed in Sardinia.

But the reason is more fundamental and easy to see: Berlusconi was Blair’s last ally in Europe. Since the change at the top in Spain in 2004, Berlusconi was the only remaining supporter of the Bush crusade in mainland Europe.

Blair now stands isolated. He is out of step with the tide in Europe. The sooner he goes, the better.

Chirac vs Blair – the rematch

We’ve been here before – but never has the relationship between Britain and France within the EU been more interesting. For Chirac, it hasn’t quite gone to plan. I’m sure he would have wanted to enter this period with France looking like good Europeans (having ratified the Constitution), casting Britain in it’s traditional role of the sceptical people on the margins of Europe (clinging to their rebate and unable to convince their Eurosceptic people of the advantages of being in the EU).

But this time, it’s the French who’ve thrown the EU into disarray, while Tony looks forward to his term at the helm. The trouble with the rebate is that it’s only justified because of CAP, and in a world where effects of unfair agricultural subsidies on third world producers can no longer be ignored, CAP is becoming less and less defensible.

Add to this the further complications introduced by EU expansion, and it becomes abundantly clear that the whole system of EU finance is in need of root-and-branch reform. Maybe then we’ll persuade more citizens on both sides of the channel to endorse a joint constitution.

Constitutional Crisis

Watching the special ‘EU Constitution Question Time‘ last night left me saddened. The vote in France is going to be worryingly close – and France has had a very open and public debate, with a serious attempt to bring awareness of the issues to a wide audience.Despite the information overload, French voters seem willing to destroy the treaty for one of three reasons:

  1. They see the constitution as ‘Thatcherite’ in it’s economic outlook
  2. They are sceptical about the accession of Turkey
  3. They don’t like Chirac and want to give him a bloody nose

The constitution does underpin a free market – but that’s hardly ‘Thatcherism’ – if it were I’d be against it too! If they don’t like Chirac, they must remember that the fallout from their decision on Sunday will be around long after Jacques has been forgotten about. I could write a whole piece about why we should try to get Turkey into the EU – but it’s completely unconnected with getting this constitution ratified.

I really hope the French forget these issues on Sunday and vote on what really matters, they have a habit of proving opinion polls wrong.

But what about us? If France votes ‘non’, then whatever anyone says, the treaty is scuppered. We will all have to go back to the drawing board – there is absolutely no point in us holding a referendum on a treaty France has rejected. However, if the French vote ‘oui’ – where does that leave us? We have had no real unbiased coverage of the constitution, we have a largely eurosceptic press full of nonsense stories about straight bananas – and we have a deeply unpopular Prime Minister. The battle for hearts and minds on this side of the channel is going to be a tough one.

Where do Eurosceptics get their suntans?

Why are we so depressingly anti-European? The Independent today visited Lorraine and spoke to a retired French priest who had lived though the occupation. In school he had been taught English and German – French being illegal. Of course, he will be voting ‘Oui’ in the French EU Constitution referendum. But he’s worried about younger eurosceptics. At the top of the list of ‘what has the EU ever given us?’ must be ’60 years of peace, co-operation and trade between former enemies’.However, the EU isn’t just a peacekeeping system – it’s so much more than that. It’s a union that has delivered greater prosperity to all of it’s member states. Former Soviet bloc countries are queueing up at the gates, clamouring to be allowed to join. Britain is a trading nation, and today, half of all our international trade is with other EU countries – free from tariffs and other trade barriers.

We in Britain cannot wait to board our cheap flights and even cheaper ferries to spend our holidays and weekends in our neighbouring EU countries, we enjoy food, culture and climate and return with our luggage stuffed full of cheap goodies.

Even rabid eurosceptics like Kilroy (the permatanned one) own properties in sunnier parts of europe to top up their tans. An uneasy coalition of far-left and right wing parties are planning a glossy, high profile ‘No’ campaign to try to derail the constitution. Since these people have no coherent message as to why we should vote no, we shouldn’t listen to them for too long – but I fear we will. The euro-knockers will try hard to derail the treaty, so that they can once again claim that the EU doesn’t work well. It’s too divided and too difficult to keep all of the disparate nations working together.

Which is precisely why we do need the treaty. The constitution is a must to solidify the framework in which all of the nations can work together and move forward. Yes, the CAP needs replacing or reforming – but it will be easier to do this in a well structured EU with a clear constitution. If the constitution fails, we are only going to perpetuate those things about the EU that we all agree need to change!

Democracy in Action (in Brussels)

Delighted to see Labour MEPs standing up to their party whip to end the ludicrous opt-out clause in the European Working Time directive. As many people will know, the so-called voluntary opt-out is too often made a condition of being offered employment in the first place. No doubt I’ll get a sackful of right wing email now! Only the Greeks currently work longer hours than us, and 48 hours is plenty enough for anyone to be expected to work in 21st century Britain. Director-General of the CBI, Sir Digby Jones claims that this about ‘freedom of choice’. Anyone who chooses to work over-long hours is either underpaid or has an unhappy marriage!