Labour Launches Charm Offensive toward EU under the Conservatives, Britain Had Frosty Relations with the European Union. the New Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, Wants to Change This
Alexander MacLeod, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
Britain, under its new Labour government, has made the first of a planned series of rapid-fire moves to mend its fences with Europe.
Prime Minister Tony Blair calculates that the Conservative Party's deep divisions over European policy were the main reason for its massive defeat in last week's general election.
His officials say he intends to heal wounds that he believes were inflicted on the European relationship by the outgoing government led by John Major. Beginning in 1979, under the Conservative government headed by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Britain's relations with the European Union worsened. As Europe as a whole has moved toward greater economic integration, Mrs. Thatcher asserted an increasingly antifederal line toward the EU. Largely because of this stance, she was ousted as prime minister by her own party. John Major succeeded Thatcher as prime minister in 1990. Mr. Major was initially pro-EU. But when Germany raised interest rates in 1992, it caused a Europe-wide economic tumble that hurt the value of Britain's currency. This strengthened the stance of the so-called Euroskeptics among the Conservatives. In addition, an EU-imposed ban on the sale of British beef in member countries last spring, due to health concerns, further strained Major's relations with the EU. It also led to deeper divisions with the Conservative Party over the EU. To avoid similar splits within the ranks of the Labour Party, Mr. Blair is demanding total loyalty from his ministerial team across the entire policy spectrum. He has even appointed a senior minister to ensure discipline in government ranks and keep critical backbench Euroskeptics in line. Blair dispatched Douglas Henderson, newly appointed minister for Europe, on a charm offensive to Brussels May 5, with a clear, upbeat message. "We want to work with you as colleagues in a shared enterprise. It is time to draw a line under the recent past," Mr. Henderson told EU ministers long used to hearing British representatives hew to a stubborn, negative line. A senior German official commented on the changed British tone: "It was like a breath of oxygen in a stale room." Foreign Secretary Robin Cook plans to visit Bonn and Paris to tell his German and French counterparts that the Labour government wants to banish the language of conflict from Britain's relations with the EU. Henderson's mission was to clear the way for Britain to sign the EU's Social Chapter on workers' rights, which for five years the outgoing Conservative government had rejected. One of Henderson's officials says Mr. Cook hopes to put Britain's signature on the Social Chapter "inside two months. …