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Wrong end of the telescope?

Posted by Richard Friday, June 04, 2004

The Independent, today – amongst other media sources – has reported that Europe's leaders are "close to a deal" on the constitution.

This fond hope arises following a meeting between Blair, Ahern and Zapatero in London yesterday. Blair, on the one hand expressed confidence that his red lines "can be defended" in the summit negotiations (note, not "have been secured", even though he seems to be in the process of giving most of them away – ed) while Zapatero told reporters that he is "preparing to compromise" on the voting rights issues.

Following Ahern's statement that there was only a 50-50 chance of agreement, a "Whitehall source" is reported to have said that the mood "had become more positive", particularly in the light of the Spanish move.

And with a predictability that becomes almost tedious, a "senior minister" told The Independent that Europe's leaders were "moving in the direction" of a deal. He said: "People have realised we need a nation-friendly constitution. I don't think any of the British red lines are menaced."

So much for the propaganda, but neither Spain nor Britain are in the front line any more. Poland is the key, and its position alone would justify Ahern's later pessimism when he went to Brussels (see Blog below). Not only that, but Ahern has had to announce that God will not get a slot in the constitution.

As always though, Whitehall is exuding false optimism. But its record for predicting outcomes of summits is not good. To often, it is looking down the wrong end of the telescope.