Riding the Successes and Failures of the EU; Chris Gray Weighs Up the Success of Mr Tony Blair's Six Months as Presi Dent of the European Union

The Birmingham Post (England), June 17, 1998 | Go to article overview

Riding the Successes and Failures of the EU; Chris Gray Weighs Up the Success of Mr Tony Blair's Six Months as Presi Dent of the European Union


One of Mr Blair's first meetings with European leaders as Prime Minister involved a bicycle race. Fresh from his massive General Election victory he naturally won the race, and the picture quickly symbolised the new leadership he intended to bring to Eur ope.

Six months after he assumed the Presidency, his period in charge was dismissed yesterday as "an expensive non event" and a lost opportunity. One commentator even suggested it was Mr Blair's first major failure as Prime Minister.

Euro-MPs would seem to agree with that suggestion as a few weeks ago they defeated a motion in the European Parliament which congratulated Britain on its handling of the Presidency.

Some would argue that annoying Euro-MPs is actually a mark of success for a British EU President, because making them glow with happiness would surely indicate a readiness to forget national interests to ensure a trouble free six months.

Mr Blair's Presidency has not been trouble free, and there have been clashes between what Britain wanted and what the other member states were after.

Overall he has been far more conciliatory than previous Conservative Prime Ministers, particularly on the explosive question of the European single currency.

The main task of Britain's Presidency was to formally launch the single currency, which was made particularly difficult by the fact Britain would not be taking part.

It meant Britain would be excluded from the regular meetings of countries in a single currency, which Chancellor Gordon Brown fought against, but failed.

Mr Blair was in charge of negotiations to get an agreement about the launch of the Euro, which he did manage to do on time.

But it was only settled after an embarrassing row when the idea of having a governor of the Central Bank for eight years was dropped in favour of have two four year terms - that is, until the first incumbent said he might stay on for more than four years after all.

As an example of how European countries could work together in a spirit of co-operation, it was less than a success and veteran observers of Europe believe if Mr Blair had been more alert to the problem it could have been settled faster.

The other essential task of the Presidency was to secure an agreement on EU enlargement, which again Mr Blair did.

There was controversy when Turkey refused to go to London to be considered as a special case for entry, but that was mainly due to decisions made, which excluded the country because of its human rights record, in the months before Mr Blair took overas P resident. …

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