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European Interview n°3

The UK and the European Union

The UK and the European Union

1) Do the British budgetary proposals reflect a tactical reality in the negotiations or do they embody the British vision of a minimalist Europe?

I do not think we can say that the present British government has a “minimalist” vision of Europe. For years Blair has constantly repeated that he is a convinced European, not only a supporter of an economically strong Europe, open to the world at large but also a Powerful Europe in the international arena. He summarised his position when he spoke of a Europe that would be “a super Power and not a super State” in a speech delivered on 6th October 2000 in Warsaw. In June 2005 he spoke before the European Parliament mentioning Social Europe, even though he does not mean it in the same way as the French government does: in his opinion it is a question of supporting and protecting workers in the face of the challenges of globalisation. The budgetary proposals made by the British presidency or at least the examination of the CAP fit into this line of thought. They also reflect the Prime Minister's position in the domestic political arena: the anti-Brussels mood that reigns in the press at the moment and that of public opinion makes it difficult to make major concessions on the amount of the rebate that the UK has enjoyed since 1984; this would be assimilated by the Eurosceptics with capitulation on the government's part. The same applies to increasing the European budget even though this is vital in order to integrate the new countries …

2) Many observers believe that the UK did not succeed in taking forwards its main objectives during its EU presidency. Can this assessment be confirmed given the measures adopted (or not) over the last sixth months?

The objectives announced by the British presidency, notably by Tony Blair himself during a speech to European Parliament in June were great in number and were highly ambitious. They related of course to the conclusion of a budgetary agreement as well as economic reforms (including the directive on services), the fight against terrorism, enlargement and a certain number of initiatives in the domain of foreign policy. After sixth months of presidency the results are not as negative as we might have feared. An agreement on the budget was reached; it is an acceptable compromise for all, even though it does not meet the Luxembourg proposals made in June. The opening of membership negotiations with Turkey in October is another positive point in the opinion of the British presidency. As far as the rest is concerned the extraordinary summit at Hampton Court again confirmed the Lisbon priorities; the idea of a European Energy Policy was launched and the importance of the co-ordination of national policies with regard to immigration was highlighted. The creation of a Fund designed to soften the blow of globalisation on European workers was also decided upon. Then there is the REACH system to assess and authorise chemical substance, voted on by the European Parliament in November and accepted by the European Council on 15th December. An agreement was reached on the price of sugar, planning for a substantial decrease in guaranteed prices by 2010. Finally there was the success of the Montreal Summit on global warming that was, in part at least, thanks to the UK presidency. However we might say that these achievements are still inadequate with regard to the crisis that the EU is undergoing, analysed by Blair himself in June; this notably applies to the Lisbon objectives, the directive on services and defence which have barely moved forwards over the last six months.

3) How does the UK see its future involvement in the CFSP and the Defence Policy?

The UK played a major role in the development of the CFSP and the CEPD over the last few years. Without the developments encouraged by Tony Blair on this subject the CEPD would not have been launched since the UK is the greatest military power in Europe. The European crisis with regard to the war in Iraq slowed but did not stop new developments in terms of European defence reflected particularly by the creation of the “battle groups” and the deployment of troops under the European banner to Bosnia, Indonesia and now maybe Gaza. The UK also made great commitments to the development of the new European Armaments Agency. The continuation of this policy, together with NATO, with or without its participation should be counted upon. But no major initiative has been announced in this domain during the presidency.

4) Beyond its presidency what are the main objectives of the British Policy in Europe for 2006?

Several priorities are likely. The first is the reform of the CAP a constant objective in the British policy. The British do not want to wait until 2013 for a fundamental revision of this and have succeeded in setting new discussions for after 2008. The Lisbon objectives will also be continued with notably emphasis being placed on higher education, research and development. Also co-operation with regard to security and the fight against terrorism will still be on the agenda even though it cannot be achieved alone within the community framework. Finally enlargement is also a continuing objective in British policy, even though it is in contradiction to the refusal to increase the European budget by any significant amount. The British government, whoever is in power, will not fail in its support of Turkey's membership as well as that of the countries in the South East of Europe.

5) To what extent would a change in Prime Minister affect the UK's European policy over the next few years?

I believe that we cannot expect any major change in the orientation of the UK's European policy since Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer has already left his mark on this policy particularly in the choice of not joining the Euro Zone. Having said this Gordon Brown is a less convinced European than Tony Blair, and we might expect an attitude less open to compromise than is the case with the present Prime Minister. As Zaki Laïdi said in an article published in Le Monde (26th October 2005) Brown has quite a negative vision of the EU that he believes to be inward looking, protectionist and attached to a social model that has proven its ineffectiveness and inadequacy with regard to the challenges of globalisation. Worse than this however, he seems to question the very need for the European Union, which is trapped between the two entities that really count in his opinion, i.e. the Nation States on the one hand and globalisation on the other. Let's hope that his pragmatism, that is real, will lead him to greater flexibility with regard to his partners in Europe.
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
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The Guest
Pauline Schnapper
Professor of Contemporary British Studies at the University - Paris 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle, Member of the Institut Universitaire de France.
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