Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Brown to visit his masters

Three issues absolutely dominate the foreign news – predictably, the Pakistani election, Kosovo and the resignation of Castro, driving any of the routine fare of the European Union off the agenda.

The commission is also going though one of those phases when there is little in the way of major initiatives coming out of Brussels, no doubt motivated by the need to keep its head down, pending the ratification of the constitutional Lisbon treaty, making Brussels-watching exceptionally tedious at this time.

With the domestic agenda being drowned in the torrent of coverage on Northern Rock, that has even driven the ratification process into touch. There was to be debates on the EU security policy yesterday, but that was shunted over to today, to allow time for the nationalisation Bill which will allow the government to take over the bank. Even giving away our country has to take second place to this pressing matter.

The issue of particular interest to us in the Northern Rock debacle was the report in The Daily Telegraph stating that the government will fall foul of European rules if it attempts to grow the newly nationalised Northern Rock.

We are told that the UK could fall foul of EU laws on competition and state aid, if, as chancellor Alistair Darling claims, Northern Rock intends to "compete vigorously" in the mortgage markets and will continue to lend money and receive deposits.

It is perhaps appropriate, therefore, that Gordon Brown is to make his first visit to the EU commission in Brussels tomorrow, which will give him an opportunity to explain to his masters, face-to-face, quite how he intends to avoid breaking EU law – something which is not at all clear to us mere mortals.

According to the IHT, the visit is to allow Brown to "firm up his European credentials", even if he has left it seven months before making the gesture.

We are told also that he intends to discuss economic policy, the environment and energy with José Manuel Barroso, and has a meeting booked with competition commissioner, Neelie Kroes, who will give him his orders on Northern Rock, although Brown's spokesman is saying that Brown did not expect any "substantive discussion" of that issue during the visit.

However, we hope it will be a good learning experience for our prime minister, although it is perhaps too late for him to find out who his masters really are, when he has already put his signature to the new treaty. How ironic it is though that, as British MPs are discussing the treaty which will give away more of his powers, Brown will be in the heart of darkness, taking his orders from the institution that he would have rule us all.

And the big "joke" is that he probably will not even begin to appreciate the irony.


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