Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Britain and Europe's Projects

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Britain and Europe's Projects

Article excerpt

AT LAST THIS Government has acknowledged that the so-called "tidying up exercise" of creating a constitution for the European Union is no such thing. Yesterday, after talks with President Chirac, it suggested that it was prepared to veto the document rather than give up national powers in areas such as defence, tax, criminal law and foreign policy. Given the Prime Minister's negotiating position so far, and his refusal to offer the British people a referendum on the constitution, we cannot be sure that this tough talk will continue. It may turn out to be no more than posturing ahead of the release of the latest draft. If, however, the position represents a real readiness to protect powers, for example to raise taxes, which properly belong to national parliaments and should not be decided by majority votes in Europe, it is welcome.

Defence, in particular, is a field where Britain's interests must not be compromised and here the Prime Minister and President Chirac failed to resolve their differences.

Last week, President Bush's visit underlined the value as well as the limitations of Britain's relationship to the world's only superpower. The comparison with American strength is a reminder of the constraints on what can be achieved by an EU defence capability, for all the optimistic talk, particularly in France, of an alternative to American-led or NATO-inspired interventions. American defence spending is far greater than that of the European nations put together, and some of the most advanced technologies belong to the US alone. Other than Britain, France, and in some respects the Netherlands, Spain and Poland, European forces have limited capabilities, and they are not integrated with one another. Nor are any European electorates in the mood for the increases in defence spending that would be necessary to create a meaningful "counterweight" to America - however much that path would suit Europe's defence suppliers. The EU needed the UN and NATO to intervene successfully even in its own backyard, in Bosnia and Kosovo. That said, the US would like to see Europe shoulder more of its own defence burden. …

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