22 June 2005
Martin Wolf claimed recently that the FT is the European newspaper, read by the political leaders throughout the EU. As a constant FT reader, I would have agreed with his unspoken assumption that your paper is indispensable to those European citizens concerned with EU affairs. But I have been questioning your papers judgement, having read your coverage and editorials about the recent EU summit and Prime Minister Blair’s conduct. It may well be that the European edition of the FT has published stories and leaders with a different slant to our diet of circumspection and diplomacy in the FT London edition. But the picture painted here of Tony Blair’s conduct at the summit was neither frank nor objective. (E.g., the headline ‘Prime Minister Garners Grudging Praise as Commentators Turn on Europe’s Leaders’ gave an unwarranted slant to the substance of your story.)
The Prime Minister’s decision to veto the Budget was not taken with an eye to revising the basic structures of the EU budgetary mechanisms, nor was he concerned to deal with the fundamental anomalies of CAP. He was, rather, playing to the British gallery. Unfortunately, Tony Blair has proved quite incapable of translating his personal European convictions into serious politics. He has allowed British conservatives and the jingo press to determine the agenda. The FT has, through most of the Blair years, been exemplary in pointing out these shortcomings. However, this time, the FT has covered up for him. Only through careful reading and deduction has it been possible to detect in your columns the dismay and frustration felt by the new member states over the Blair veto. Nor has the FT given any space to the considered views of the Spanish or German prime ministers, both responsible statesmen with a high sense of responsibility for the direction and current parlous state of the EU.
Your British readers need to know that Tony Blair’s conduct at the Summit has made it more difficult, not easier, for a reform of the EU budgetary process to take place. They also need to be informed about the practical problems which lie ahead of the UK government in assuming the EU presidency for the next six months. The practical importance of the constitutional treaty was that it enabled the smooth, effective integration of the ten new member states into decision-making and administration. Now that the treaty has been put in abeyance, we need to know how the Blair government is going to facilitate the full participation of the new entrants and ensure that their voices are heard more effectively. These questions are serious matters which may well determine the future course of the EU as a viable institution. The FT should be asking them, rather than diplomatically covering up for British politicians who are currently behaving so parochially.
I have also been surprised at the FT’s readiness to describe the current political impasse inside the EU as turmoil. By most definitions, turmoil involves social and political unrest and instability. All that has actually happened is two No votes in referenda. As a historian of 19th and 20th century Europe, my standard of calibration includes revolutions, insurrections, general strikes and runaway inflation. Have standards so altered in the 21st that a normal part of the democratic political process now qualifies as turmoil? Even the term crisis, so liberally deployed by British politicians, seems misplaced. All that we citizens are observing is a challenging situations for our political leaders. My measuring stick will judge Blair’s conduct by Ernest Bevin and Harold Macmillan, both of whom had a profound feeling for the importance of our central position inside Europe.
Professor of Labour and Industrial History
University of Westminster
309 Regent Street
London W1B 2UW
Nina Fishman writes here in a personal capacity without necessarily expressing the opinions of Federal Union.