Mr Blair goes to Brussels

Tony Blair (picture European Commission)

James Stewart gave the performance of his life as a political outsider arriving at the seat of power and determined to play by his rules rather than those of the establishment. “Mr Smith goes to Washington” failed to win him an Oscar but he won the hearts of millions of film lovers.

Mr Blair’s performance in the European Union lately is more Franz Kafka than Frank Capra. Two weeks ago, he declared “the UK rebate will remain and we will not negotiate it away. Period.” This week, the tone was that “the rebate is an anomaly that has to go”. All this from a man with no reverse gear.

So, against that background, what to make of his speech to the European Parliament today? (You can read the speech here.)

It is certainly important that the European Union faces up to the need for reform. There can be no satisfaction in a social model that leaves millions of people unemployed, nor in an agricultural policy that serves to leave millions more in poverty. People around the world need Europe to become a powerful advocate for democracy and the rule of law at the global level.

But there is more to the EU than these simple soundbites and headlines. For what is it that will enable the EU fight unemployment and boost economic growth? What are the preconditions for reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. And how will Europe actually become able to hold up its head in the world?

The answers to these questions will be developed over time, if we can debate the issues fairly and frankly. But the common thread to all of them is that they depend on a renewed cooperation between the member states, in the framework of our shared democratic institutions. All the talk of the unique success of the European Union is a reference to the unique success of its supranationalism.

In the search for the right policies, denunciation by one government leader of the others isn’t going to help. The need to reform the EU to make it a continued success in the future is going to need the contribution of all of them.

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I can recommend Gordon Brown’s speech at the Mansion House last night, too. (You can find it here.) Amid an excellent description of the economic challenges ahead (or even here right now, according to your taste), he says that, of the founders of the EU, “In their desire to secure a Europe at peace they came to believe that a European identity could supersede national identities.” That’s not quite right. They thought that a European identity could accompany national identities, not replace them. Gordon Brown does not have to choose between being British and Scottish, does he?

This blog entry first appeared on www.yes-campaign.net. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union or of the Yes campaign.

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