Saturday, June 18, 2005

Blair's "grand plans" for the presidency

The dogs bark, the caravan departs. In other words the European Council has ended with nothing much achieved and nothing much not achieved. We are where we were and, as my colleague has pointed out, need to watch developments in the member states.

That great guru of European politics, Toby Helm, has decided to look forward to the British presidency, which will do such things. What they are we know not yet. Toby Helm thinks he does but, alas, he gives us few clues.

He does know that it will be a difficult presidency, what with the Constitution in the long grass, the budget undecided and further enlargement becoming endangered. Actually, all of that should make for an easy ride.

The Constitution and the budget will probably not be revived till the Austrian presidency, which will come next and further enlargement (for which read Turkey’s membership) is so far in the future as to be of little political import. Romania and Bulgaria seem to be a done deal but even that can fall apart.

Next Thursday Mr Blair will outline his plans to the European Parliament. That should be a bundle of laughs.

“Downing Street and the Foreign Office say Mr Blair sees the presidency as a chance to make the case for a modern, outward-looking Europe that concentrates more on how to make its own sovereign member states prosperous, and less on how to regulate them centrally.”

Sounds good. How is he going to achieve it all? Are there any plans for structural and institutional reforms? Not that we hear from Downing Street or the Foreign Office, or, for that matter, Toby Helm. Then how is Europe going to become modern and outward-looking? Sounds no different from Liam Fox’s “completely different dynamic Europe”. It was once upon a time but that was before the days of the European Union.

Still, Mr Blair seems to have some strange ideas as to how these various reforms can be achieved:

“This means he wants the period of "reflection" demanded by all EU leaders to be used to criticise Europe's trade bloc mentality, the scandal of the Common Agricultural Policy, and the "social model" economies of mainland Europe.”

And? What happens after you have criticised your fill? Business as usual, one presumes.

When we get down to some detail as to what the British presidency might come up with (apart from the perennial fight with red tape), it all becomes a little more worrying, or, to be quite accurate, predictably worrying:

“A key British priority will be the so-called "security" agenda. UK ministers intend to advance plans to complement the European arrest warrant with a new evidence warrant and deepen co-operation on counter-terrorism.

Tackling poverty will also be at the top of the agenda as Britain pushes the EU to reach its goal of contributing 0.7 per cent of community income to development projects by 2015, with an interim target of 0.51per cent by 2010.”

The Evidence Warrant, which was decided on at the Justice and Home Affairs Council in February, as we have pointed out before, will have the same 32 items on it as the Arrest Warrant, only 4 of which have anything to do with security and terrorism. The rest is all about co-ordinating the criminal justice systems of the EU.

So, the priority for the British presidency will be to integrate the criminal justice systems even further and throw more money from the EU budget at developing countries and their kleptocratic, oppressive rulers.

Unless, of course, those development projects are within the EU itself. In which case, Mr Blair intends to throw even more money at grandiose plans that manage to line a few pockets.

That’s it? That’s the new, radical, reformist agenda. Gosh, even Juncker did better than that. At least I think he did. I can’t quite recall what he said he would do.

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