Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Single European Bully

With his usual genius for self-publicity, l'escroc Chirac has dominated The Daily Telegraph front page today, and many other newspapers besides.

However, as far as the Telegraph goes, it would be hard to devise a less flattering headline: "Chirac betrays Blair on Britain’s rebate".

Blair, so the story goes, was humiliated yesterday when l'escroc attacked Britain's £3 billion EU rebate hours after the prime minister had come to his aid over the services directive. Instead of repaying the Blair by avoiding sensitive issues before a likely May election in Britain, he went out of his way to complain about the rebate Margaret Thatcher won in 1984.

"We can only truthfully achieve an appropriate balance if we reopen the debate on the British cheque [rebate]," he said. The rebate might have had some justification when it was secured by "Monsieur Thatcher" - an interesting slip of the tongue - but it could "no longer be justified; it is from the past".

The theme of Jacques the bully is picked up on the inside columns with a piece by David Rennie under the headline: "Chirac bullies Blair into saving French jobs".

Rennie starts his piece with: "The European Union summit that ended last night will not go down in history for its achievements. Instead, it will be chiefly remembered for the way President Jacques Chirac rode roughshod over Britain in his quest to shelter the French from the harsh winds of competition," reminding us – as if we needed it – that, for Tony Blair and other victims of Mr Chirac's bullying, it was nothing new.

This "thuggish behaviour", however, Rennie asserts, will be a lesson that the EU's newest recruits from eastern and central Europe, will not quickly forget. One diplomat from a new accession state described the French attitude as "all about French egocentrism, about Chirac and his referendum".

Instead of compromising, Mr Chirac railed against free-market reforms, or what he called "ultra-liberalism", denouncing this evil as "as great a menace as communism in its day". To Eastern Europeans who lived through real, as opposed to rhetorical, communism, it was a final straw.

That, incidentally, was not the gloss that was put on it by the Polish news agency (PAP), which had Polish prime minister Marek Belka "satisfied with the compromise". At his post-Council press-conference, he told reporters: "We understand concerns of other countries but we will do everything possible to ensure a full, even if gradual, liberalisation of the service sector."

The underlying agenda was clear from his subsequent statements, when he explained that Poland could not disregard reactions to the liberalisation in some EU member states, notably France. The stakes were too high, because nobody wanted a rejection by France of the EU constitution in a referendum due in May, he said. For Poland it was most important that the draft would not be rejected but serve as "the basis for further work."

That theme is picked up by the Telegraph editorial which proclaims: "France and Germany put the brakes on growth", declaring that, "When the Lisbon agenda was launched five years ago, it did not seem outlandish that the EU could build 'the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world’ by 2010."

Well, the paper is entitled to its opinion but it certainly has come to the view shared by the Blog that, by the close of the latest "summit"” in Brussels yesterday, that ambition was sounding like a bad joke.

The Telegraph notes that Messrs Chirac and Schröder have their eye on the domestic scene and that their calculations are "blatantly self-serving". Tony Blair's position, it adds, "is less easy to understand." In order to help Mr Chirac over the referendum, he did not bridle at diluting the services directive. Yet a "no" would let him off the hook as far as a British referendum is concerned, and his reticence over the directive was rewarded yesterday by a French attack on the British rebate.

But what is delicious is the "take" from the Europhile Guardian which, in muted coverage, reports that:

Mr Chirac's bullish interventions came as little surprise to Mr Blair and other European leaders who accept that the French president must adopt a harsh tone if he is to recover his position ahead of the EU constitution referendum in May 29.
And, in a separate editorial, this paper argues that, although the "messy reality and paltry results in Brussels are not inspiring," governments still have a duty to keep on selling the EU's benefits to their doubting and apathetic people.

It does not highlight, though, that one of those "benefits" is having a Single European Bully on the block.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.