They all seem to have fallen for it. The Times is saying: "Blair backs down as French resist greater freedoms for EU workers", while The Guardian has it that: "Barroso seeks to calm fears of a Thatcherite laissez-faire Europe" and The Independent tells us that: "Chirac digs in to defend French vision of EU against Blair's free-market liberalism".
Even the Financial Times has: "EU leaders back changes to services directive" and only The Daily Telegraph is left trailing, with: "Blair under pressure to help Chirac win constitution vote".
The Times leads the pack with the statement that: "Tony Blair has given in to French demands for a 'far reaching' revision of controversial plans to streamline employment regulations across the EU after President Chirac of France declared that the free market policies championed by Britain were “the new communism of our age".
Blair, we are told, agreed after a major row to water down the proposals to open up Europe’s market in services to help the French Government to avoid defeat in May’s referendum on the European constitution and to protect the "European social model".
And so on it goes. The Guardian had José Manuel Barroso trying to "allay Franco-German fears that he is attempting to impose a Thatcherite vision on Europe". The Independent painted a picture of "a defiant French president" demanding a series of concessions to water down controversial British-backed plans to open up a large sector of the European economy to fresh competition, and The Financial Times told us that Chirac had "won backing" from EU leaders for a significant rewrite of the services directive.
What none of the assembled hacks seem to have done was read the communiqué issued by the Luxembourg presidency which, in it is original French, presents a somewhat different picture:
La directive ne sera pas retirée. C’est la seule Commission qui pourrait le faire. Le Conseil européen n’a pas le droit de donner des injonctions de ce type à la Commission européenne. Si la directive était retirée, nous donnerions l'impression que l’ouverture des services aurait disparu de l’agenda européen.In English, it looks less impressive, but the meaning is exactly the same:
The directive will not be withdrawn. Only the Commission could do this. The European Council does not have the right to pass injunctions of this type to the European Commission. If the directive were withdrawn, we would give the impression that the opening of services had vanished from the European agenda.You may huff and you may puff, and you can have all the hacks buy your spin, but when the chips are down, the power lies with the commission. The European Council does not have the right to pass injunctions of this type to the European Commission: "La directive ne sera pas retirée."