The EU Constitution: Blair Joins 'Old Europe'

Just as the poll tax was Margaret Thatcher's final act of nihilism, Tony Blair's may be the EU Constitution, which he's now indicated he'll push through without a referendum before the next general election. His continued survival after the politically fraught days in the run—up to the Iraq war, and over the ensuing furor about WMD intelligence, has tricked him into a trance of overconfidence. Without the same objectivity that brought him to power, Blair has become drunk with office, and it may ultimately spell his doom.

 

Poll after poll has categorically shown that an overwhelming majority of the British population want a vote on the issue of the EU Constitution. In fact, the most recent survey found that a whopping 75% of those polled wanted a referendum. These figures indicate that there will be a substantially greater level of public dissatisfaction over the EU Constitution, than that which Blair only just endured in regard to the Iraq war.

 

The other major danger for Blair is that the Conservatives, under Michael Howard, will quite rightly campaign against the EU constitution, and make it a vital election issue. This may be an excellent opportunity for the Tories to win back many of the voters who abandoned them in 1997.

 

Apart from the Tories, the Liberal Democrats (Britain's third largest party) are also going to campaign for a referendum, even though many of them do support the idea of an EU Constitution in principle. Add to that a large rebellion in Tony Blair's own Labour party, and it all starts looking rather bleak for the PM.

 

Of course, all this is unlikely to dissuade Blair from attempting to push through the EU Constitution without a referendum. Unfortunately, Blair now believes in his own hype to such an extent that he is almost incapable of backing down, no matter how strong the resistance against him. Having weathered the brutal media storm over the Iraq War, Blair believes that he can convince anybody of almost anything. While few would question the British Prime Minster's skills of persuasion, asking the British people to trust him over the proposed European Constitution without a plebiscite may be asking too much.

 

The irony about his potential electoral defeat — if he maintains his position on the referendum — is that Blair's ballot box assassins will most likely be those who supported his brave stand over the Iraq war and the wider war on terrorism. The EU constitution is one of only a few issues which may cause floating Conservatives to turn against him.

 

A peculiar aspect of all of this is Blair's contradictory stance on the issue of the Euro currency, which is a totally separate issue from the proposed Constitution. When he campaigned to become Prime Minister before the 1997 election, his manifesto included a promise to hold a referendum on Britain's entry into the new pan—European currency. It was an immensely sensible position in comparison to the Tories, whose stance was to rule out the Euro forever.

 

Of course, he didn't count on the British people remaining overwhelmingly hostile to adopting the Euro. No doubt, he felt that over time he could convince enough of the population that monetary union would be in the country's best economic and political interests.

 

For Blair, the gamble clearly has not paid off, because the evidence so far suggests that the British economy has outperformed those of the Euro currency nations. Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and (coincidentally) Blair's most potent rival within his own party, has managed the economy —— up to now —— in a highly proficient manner. This in turn has made it impossible for Blair to win a referendum on the Euro. Naturally, Blair won't call a plebiscite he knows he will lose. So the British continue to carry Pounds, not Euros in their wallets, at least at home.

 

However, on the issue of the EU Constitution he's decided to do the exact opposite, and resist the dreaded plebiscite, fearing that the British public will never change their minds. Tony Blair is allowing Michael Howard, and the Conservatives back into the comfortable middle ground which he ruthlessly took from them in 1997. He is throwing everything away in his single—minded determination to be the dealmaker for the EU Constitution. It's got 'loser' written all over it, but it appears as if nothing will curtail him.

 

So what is it about the proposed EU Constitution that excites Blair so much?

 

The overall effect of the Constitution is to transfer away to Brussels a substantial part of the UK's sovereignty. Many of the decision making and legislative powers currently held by European nation states would slip away to the EU. Proposals include the creation of a new Foreign Minster's role, to conduct the EU's common foreign policy. Theoretically, he would be the EU official Colin Powell would call when the US wanted to speak with Europe.

 

Imagine that — a Chris Patten on steroids.

 

With the new Foreign Minister would come a new integrated foreign and defense policy which calls on the member nations to: 'support the Union's common foreign and security policy actively and unreservedly in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity." Of course, Tony Blair has stated many times his determination in maintaining Britain's veto on matters of foreign policy.

 

A new EU President is also proposed. He/she would be elected by a qualified majority of the European Council — the heads of EU nation states — for a term of two and half years. The smaller countries aren't all that keen on this proposal, alert to the fact that the larger countries — with their combined voting weights — will be able to dominate the national identity of the President. The recent Constitution impasse among Spain, Poland and Germany was related to these European Council voting weights.

 

The proposals in the difficult realm of legal supremacy take on an even more ominous tone. The EU would establish its own 'legal personality', and its adopted laws would have primacy over the laws of the member states. This, of course, is one of the most troubling passages in the proposed Constitution. Potentially, it allows the EU central government the ability to challenge any law of a member state. The Conservatives and other opponents of the Constitution have pointed out that this clause poses a particularly serious threat to British sovereignty. Britain, after all, invented the concept of limited government. The Continentals have never quite caught on. The near—millennium's worth of post—Magna Carta judicial tradition could be swept away by French or Belgian judges.

 

In the area of economics and taxation the proposals are minimal, as countries in the Euro currency already have an integrated economic policy. For countries outside the Euro, such as Britain, not much would change. Apparently, tax harmonization has been completely ruled out — a key red line issue according to Tony Blair.

 

After summarizing the salient features of the proposed EU Constitution, it's difficult to ascertain what there is, if anything, that gets Tony Blair all excited and keen as a bull terrier.

 

Of course, there is plenty in the Constitution that should be worrying the Tony Blair who supposedly holds the Transatlantic Alliance in such high esteem. For a start, the proposed common foreign and defense policy appears to conflict rather obviously with the historical mandate of NATO. The divisions over the Iraq war demonstrated only too well that there exist two very different visions of how Europe's strategic interests are best served. It's crystal clear that 'Old Europe' —— led enthusiastically by France and Germany —— want rid of the transatlantic partnership and craves to forge a strategic path that sharply diverges from that of NATO under US leadership.

 

Commentators on either side of the Atlantic who argue that these 'little' divergences are just storms in a teacup are simply in denial. One would hope that US foreign policy makers are taking the defense—related passages in the EU Constitution seriously and not laughing them off as some cosmetic exercise by the Europeans. How long before the British Navy joins that of the Chinese and French, conducting military exercises in the Taiwan Straits?

 

Undoubtedly, it will weaken NATO's global authority, and in light of that questions should be asked about the sincerity of Tony Blair's support for the Transatlantic Alliance.

 

Equally disturbing is the notion that the EU would have legal supremacy over British Law. That's about as Imperial in nature as you can get without actually marching into another country and occupying it.

 

So in the final analysis, Tony Blair's willingness to recklessly stride ahead with the EU Constitution without a referendum should be causing intense alarm at the Pentagon and White House.

 

Unfortunately, Blair is being driven by the same forces of human nature that have corrupted all men through the ages. Influence and power within Europe remain Blair's key motivations, and his almost maniacal belief that he can sort out 'Old Europe' from the inside will drive the western alliance to the brink of insignificance.

 

It appears as if Michael Howard, the leader of the British Conservatives, may be the last man in Britain capable of stopping him.

 

Michael Morris is our Londont Correspondent

Just as the poll tax was Margaret Thatcher's final act of nihilism, Tony Blair's may be the EU Constitution, which he's now indicated he'll push through without a referendum before the next general election. His continued survival after the politically fraught days in the run—up to the Iraq war, and over the ensuing furor about WMD intelligence, has tricked him into a trance of overconfidence. Without the same objectivity that brought him to power, Blair has become drunk with office, and it may ultimately spell his doom.

 

Poll after poll has categorically shown that an overwhelming majority of the British population want a vote on the issue of the EU Constitution. In fact, the most recent survey found that a whopping 75% of those polled wanted a referendum. These figures indicate that there will be a substantially greater level of public dissatisfaction over the EU Constitution, than that which Blair only just endured in regard to the Iraq war.

 

The other major danger for Blair is that the Conservatives, under Michael Howard, will quite rightly campaign against the EU constitution, and make it a vital election issue. This may be an excellent opportunity for the Tories to win back many of the voters who abandoned them in 1997.

 

Apart from the Tories, the Liberal Democrats (Britain's third largest party) are also going to campaign for a referendum, even though many of them do support the idea of an EU Constitution in principle. Add to that a large rebellion in Tony Blair's own Labour party, and it all starts looking rather bleak for the PM.

 

Of course, all this is unlikely to dissuade Blair from attempting to push through the EU Constitution without a referendum. Unfortunately, Blair now believes in his own hype to such an extent that he is almost incapable of backing down, no matter how strong the resistance against him. Having weathered the brutal media storm over the Iraq War, Blair believes that he can convince anybody of almost anything. While few would question the British Prime Minster's skills of persuasion, asking the British people to trust him over the proposed European Constitution without a plebiscite may be asking too much.

 

The irony about his potential electoral defeat — if he maintains his position on the referendum — is that Blair's ballot box assassins will most likely be those who supported his brave stand over the Iraq war and the wider war on terrorism. The EU constitution is one of only a few issues which may cause floating Conservatives to turn against him.

 

A peculiar aspect of all of this is Blair's contradictory stance on the issue of the Euro currency, which is a totally separate issue from the proposed Constitution. When he campaigned to become Prime Minister before the 1997 election, his manifesto included a promise to hold a referendum on Britain's entry into the new pan—European currency. It was an immensely sensible position in comparison to the Tories, whose stance was to rule out the Euro forever.

 

Of course, he didn't count on the British people remaining overwhelmingly hostile to adopting the Euro. No doubt, he felt that over time he could convince enough of the population that monetary union would be in the country's best economic and political interests.

 

For Blair, the gamble clearly has not paid off, because the evidence so far suggests that the British economy has outperformed those of the Euro currency nations. Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and (coincidentally) Blair's most potent rival within his own party, has managed the economy —— up to now —— in a highly proficient manner. This in turn has made it impossible for Blair to win a referendum on the Euro. Naturally, Blair won't call a plebiscite he knows he will lose. So the British continue to carry Pounds, not Euros in their wallets, at least at home.

 

However, on the issue of the EU Constitution he's decided to do the exact opposite, and resist the dreaded plebiscite, fearing that the British public will never change their minds. Tony Blair is allowing Michael Howard, and the Conservatives back into the comfortable middle ground which he ruthlessly took from them in 1997. He is throwing everything away in his single—minded determination to be the dealmaker for the EU Constitution. It's got 'loser' written all over it, but it appears as if nothing will curtail him.

 

So what is it about the proposed EU Constitution that excites Blair so much?

 

The overall effect of the Constitution is to transfer away to Brussels a substantial part of the UK's sovereignty. Many of the decision making and legislative powers currently held by European nation states would slip away to the EU. Proposals include the creation of a new Foreign Minster's role, to conduct the EU's common foreign policy. Theoretically, he would be the EU official Colin Powell would call when the US wanted to speak with Europe.

 

Imagine that — a Chris Patten on steroids.

 

With the new Foreign Minister would come a new integrated foreign and defense policy which calls on the member nations to: 'support the Union's common foreign and security policy actively and unreservedly in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity." Of course, Tony Blair has stated many times his determination in maintaining Britain's veto on matters of foreign policy.

 

A new EU President is also proposed. He/she would be elected by a qualified majority of the European Council — the heads of EU nation states — for a term of two and half years. The smaller countries aren't all that keen on this proposal, alert to the fact that the larger countries — with their combined voting weights — will be able to dominate the national identity of the President. The recent Constitution impasse among Spain, Poland and Germany was related to these European Council voting weights.

 

The proposals in the difficult realm of legal supremacy take on an even more ominous tone. The EU would establish its own 'legal personality', and its adopted laws would have primacy over the laws of the member states. This, of course, is one of the most troubling passages in the proposed Constitution. Potentially, it allows the EU central government the ability to challenge any law of a member state. The Conservatives and other opponents of the Constitution have pointed out that this clause poses a particularly serious threat to British sovereignty. Britain, after all, invented the concept of limited government. The Continentals have never quite caught on. The near—millennium's worth of post—Magna Carta judicial tradition could be swept away by French or Belgian judges.

 

In the area of economics and taxation the proposals are minimal, as countries in the Euro currency already have an integrated economic policy. For countries outside the Euro, such as Britain, not much would change. Apparently, tax harmonization has been completely ruled out — a key red line issue according to Tony Blair.

 

After summarizing the salient features of the proposed EU Constitution, it's difficult to ascertain what there is, if anything, that gets Tony Blair all excited and keen as a bull terrier.

 

Of course, there is plenty in the Constitution that should be worrying the Tony Blair who supposedly holds the Transatlantic Alliance in such high esteem. For a start, the proposed common foreign and defense policy appears to conflict rather obviously with the historical mandate of NATO. The divisions over the Iraq war demonstrated only too well that there exist two very different visions of how Europe's strategic interests are best served. It's crystal clear that 'Old Europe' —— led enthusiastically by France and Germany —— want rid of the transatlantic partnership and craves to forge a strategic path that sharply diverges from that of NATO under US leadership.

 

Commentators on either side of the Atlantic who argue that these 'little' divergences are just storms in a teacup are simply in denial. One would hope that US foreign policy makers are taking the defense—related passages in the EU Constitution seriously and not laughing them off as some cosmetic exercise by the Europeans. How long before the British Navy joins that of the Chinese and French, conducting military exercises in the Taiwan Straits?

 

Undoubtedly, it will weaken NATO's global authority, and in light of that questions should be asked about the sincerity of Tony Blair's support for the Transatlantic Alliance.

 

Equally disturbing is the notion that the EU would have legal supremacy over British Law. That's about as Imperial in nature as you can get without actually marching into another country and occupying it.

 

So in the final analysis, Tony Blair's willingness to recklessly stride ahead with the EU Constitution without a referendum should be causing intense alarm at the Pentagon and White House.

 

Unfortunately, Blair is being driven by the same forces of human nature that have corrupted all men through the ages. Influence and power within Europe remain Blair's key motivations, and his almost maniacal belief that he can sort out 'Old Europe' from the inside will drive the western alliance to the brink of insignificance.

 

It appears as if Michael Howard, the leader of the British Conservatives, may be the last man in Britain capable of stopping him.

 

Michael Morris is our Londont Correspondent