Monday, June 13, 2005

Not even in the game

On BBC Radio 4's World at One programme this lunchtime, Michael Howard was interviewed on the subject of the British rebate.

According to Howard, at the European Council, Blair should be getting stuck in and telling the colleagues that "…this is the chance we have to create a European Union which is more accountable, which is less centralised, which is more responsive, which does less and does it better."

He feels the colleagues should "…recognise that the constitution is dead and they should be thinking about the kind of European Union we need and the kind of European Union we can create."

One groans inwardly. This is the kind of collective fantasy in which the Conservatives have indulged for years, demonstrating that they have learned nothing.

Everything Howard says is fine and dandy, except it is not on the agenda. At this week's European Council the "colleagues" have absolutely no intention of discussing the "future of Europe", in the way that Howard would have them do.

If Blair went in full of airy-fairy ideas about "the kind of Europe we need", he would not get even a hearing. As for a "wider discussion on the financing of the EU", Howard would do well to recall Juncker’s words to Le Monde at the beginning of the Luxembourg presidency in January.

Recognising that any wider debate would require looking again at the two-year old agreement setting Europe's agriculture budgets – Juncker said, quite flatly, "I do not intend to open this file, to even burn my fingers while trying to open it."

The reality is, therefore, that Blair is going to have to deal with the situation as he finds it – not as Howard might wish it to be. That reality is that there will be a very narrow focus, with the main emphasis on how the setback of the recent "no" votes can be overcome and how the ratification process for the constitution can be recovered.

Unless he can get his brain round that, Howard is not even in the game.