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If you think you know what is going on…

Posted by Richard Monday, June 11, 2007

The scramble for opt-outs to the forthcoming EU treaty risks turning the European Council into a farce.

That is the view of Philip Webster, political editor of The Times, making a refreshing change from the ill-informed certainty of The Sunday Telegraph, which has the treaty virtually sewn up.

Webster is telling us that opt-outs, offered unbidden to the UK on Justice and Home Affairs and demanded by Britain on other issues, look like sparking a rash of like demands from other member states, asking for exclusions from areas of the treaty that they find unacceptable.

Leading the awkward squad is Poland – which comes as no surprise – but Holland is also waiting in the wings, its government even more worried about the prospect of a referendum than is Gordon Brown.

Of possibly greater interest on the domestic front is Webster's claim that Blair and the prime minister soon-to-be Gordon Brown are working closely together on the negotiations and there is no disagreement between the pair. An ally of Brown is cited saying that, whatever came out of the summit, Brown would have to take it forward. "We cannot have a deal at any price just because Tony is going. We can only allow through now what will be defensible down the line."

This may be slightly more credible than the "biff-bam scenario" presented by some other newspapers, as it stands to reason that Blair has nothing to gain by putting his successor in a position from which he will have to retreat. If that is the case then, while Blair may be flying solo to Brussels, the shadow of Brown will be looming large. The outcome will reflect any agreement between the pair.

For the moment, though, we are in that political territory so familiar to the Irish: if you think you know what's going on, you haven't been listening.

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