The next Labour leader should take a forceful and positive line on the EUby Anthony Giddens / November 19, 2006 / Leave a comment
For the past year I’ve been taking part in a project on the future of the EU, concentrating on the “social model”—Europe’s systems of social protection and welfare. The experience has brought home to me how different Britain is from most other EU countries. If you are working on “Europe” in Britain, you are outside the mainstream of policymaking.
During his ten years of power, Blair has not managed to change this very much. He wasn’t prepared to risk pushing for Britain’s entry to the euro early on, when his standing was high. He has unhesitatingly leaned to the US, even when a right-wing administration took over; and the gamble he took in going along with that administration in the invasion of Iraq helped to split the EU.
Partly for these reasons, Blair has found it hard to work with EU leaders. Lionel Jospin was cold towards him. An initially good relationship with Gerhard Schröder soured. Romano Prodi and Blair were never close, while the less said of his relationship with Jacques Chirac the better. One can understand why Blair’s closest connections were with José María Aznar and Silvio Berlusconi—yet this was an odd, and in the end dysfunctional, choice of allies.
There are two main areas where Blair has made an impact on the European scene. The British played a significant role in creating the Lisbon agenda, initiated in 2000, which aims to boost EU growth and competitiveness. It has proved hard to implement, but has provided goals for the socio-economic development of the EU that have commanded general agreement. Blair also took the lead in arguing for improved EU military capability, especially in the creation of a force capable of rapid deployment in troublespots.
Blair signed up to the constitution. But it is clear that he felt relieved when French and Dutch voters said no. He called for a referendum in Britain not for democratic reasons, but to defuse the issue during the last general election. Other EU governments saw him as sacrificing principle for expediency.
Perhaps liberated by the demise of the constitution, Blair has given his best speeches about the EU late on. The best of all, delivered in the European parliament last June, was concerned with how the EU should react to the demise of the constitution. It is the only speech on the EU Blair has given that really struck a chord in…