Sunday, February 27, 2005

The secret is out

The Sunday Telegraph reveals today how British and American conservatives united to stop Bush endorsing the EU constitution as favour to Blair.

According to this source, Bush's speech to European leaders last week was toned down at the last moment to avoid giving his support to the proposed EU constitution, after a strenuous lobbying campaign by conservative activists in Washington.

The Telegraph says that "leading British Eurosceptics" were enlisted to help win a battle within the White House over how far Bush should go in endorsing a more unified EU, after reports began to circulate in Washington that his planned speech would express backing for the constitution.

Members of the staff of Dick Cheney, the vice-president, are also said to have intervened with Mr Bush's speechwriters to ensure the removal of language which, conservatives say, would have given a powerful and explicit boost to campaigners for the EU constitution.

"The speech was being drawn up along State Department lines, with a view to backing the draft constitution," said one Washington official with close White House links. "It was not until last weekend that we were given assurances at the highest level that this would not, after all, be happening."

According to one EU parliament official, who says he was shown an advance draft of Mr Bush's remarks by a "well-connected" American contact, the president was originally going to say: "I know Europe is creating a constitution. We in America value our constitution and so should you."

In the event, at his meeting with EU heads of government in Brussels on Monday, Mr Bush merely declared his backing for what he called Europe's "democratic unity". He said America supported "a strong Europe", but fell short of an explicit endorsement of the constitution. His repeated reference to "Europe" rather than the EU was also seen as a victory by Eurosceptics.

According to The Telegraph, alarm bells rang among conservatives after Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, spoke warmly during her recent trip to Europe of the "growing unity of Europe", including plans for a shared foreign policy and powerful EU foreign minister, and said America had "everything to gain from having a stronger Europe as a partner".

One conservative American policy adviser said: "If a common foreign and security policy had applied during Iraq, it would have meant we had no allies at all in Europe."

Peter Mandelson, the EU's trade commissioner, was said to have been boasting that Mr Bush would endorse the draft constitution - a move likely to strengthen Tony Blair's position in campaigning for a "yes" vote in Britain's referendum.

The Telegraph then gives an account of how a posse of think-tanks, led by the influential Heritage Foundation and other conservative groups began an urgent lobbying of the White House to prevent this. And, although the account is by no means complete, it is certainly true that the weight of lobbying prevailed. Altogether, this was a highly successful coup.

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