Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Born-again losers?

Mr Blair's new-found enthusiasm for "Europe" looks set for a rocky path if he insists on trying to broker a budget agreement during the British presidency.

That is the obvious conclusion to draw from the comment made by The Financial Times which thinks that the idea of squaring both Germany and France by December "seems fanciful". Not only is Blair at odds with Chirac and Schröder, but he has managed to upset Poland and the other central and eastern European states, all of which wanted a bad deal rather than no deal at all at the Council meeting.

Not that General Blair sees it that way, having told the House of Commons yesterday that the "inadequate" budget review put forward at the Council was not "fit for purpose" and not one he could not have recommended to Parliament. "It was not the right deal for Britain. It was not the right deal for Europe," he declared. "Europe's credibility demands the right deal," he added, "Not the usual cobbled together compromise in the early hours of the morning."

But, if a deal is to be reached, the indications are that it will be Britain that pays for it. Blair has indicated that the UK could be prepared to revisit the proposal tabled by Luxembourg to freeze the rebate at around €5.5bn providing a mid-term restructuring of the budget, in 2008, was satisfactory. That wealthy countries would pay more and the poorer countries less "is entirely justifiable if the budget in Europe is spent on sensible things," says Blair.

Unwilling to wait ten years for reforms, by 2008 the prime minister is banking on Chirac having followed Schröder into political oblivion, whence new leaders might be in place, not least Angela Merkel as German chancellor, with the possibility of Sarkozy as president of France.

Somehow, though, the idea that the "colleagues" are going to sit back and let the perfidious Anglo Saxon Blair wade in and sort out the budget, claiming all the glory while France and Germany sit on the sidelines is indeed fanciful. We already know Chirac is out for blood, so it is not a question of when but how he manages to sabotage the British presidency.

After a tense six-months, we can expect a newly disillusioned Blair washing his hands of the whole affair, and dumping it in the lap of the Austrians, with his grand plans in tatters – no longer the born-again European but a born-again loser.

Even if Blair wins out though, it is very clear that the British people will be losers. Having been denied a referendum on the constitution, we are still getting parts of it implemented, and there is no promise of any fundamental "reform" of the EU. All we can expect is a juggling with the amounts paid, for which our reward will be that we get to foot the bill.

Thus, while for Blair there is at least a prospect – however remote – of him winning the political game, the British people lose out every which way. We are the real born-again losers.

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