Blair, Chirac in drive to win back citizens’ support

blair_smile_pic_commission.jpg

Social Europe, innovation and globalisation issues are the topics the EU summit should address in order to win back support for the European project, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and the French President Jacques Chirac agree. 

The British prime minister and the French president addressed many of the same issues. While both Mr. Blair and Mr. Chirac seem to agree not to re-open the stalled talks on the EU’s mid-term budget perspective at Hampton Court, analysts agree that the so-called financial perspective will be the subnote of the Council. The table below is a comparison of both statesmen’s views on some central issues:

 

On…


Blair


Chirac

Europe’s social model “[We] we need to make far greater progress on what I might call the demographic or work-life balance issues. Now here it is not appropriate for the European Union to be engaged in substantial bouts of extra regulation and so on, but here is where the open method of co-ordination could work properly – in things like work-life balance, in childcare, and provision for people to be able to raise their family and work at the same time, in how we get the best practice in pension and social security systems across Europe. “[Europe’s] model is the social market economy, alliance of liberty and solidarity, with the public authority safeguarding the public interest. The society Europe strives for is centred on human dignity. Were we to give up this ideal we would betray our heritage. France will therefore never let Europe become a mere free-trade area. We want a political and social Europe rooted in solidarity.” 
Research and development

“We need both to make sure that more of the European budget is spent on those priority areas if those are the future areas for the European economy, and we also need to co-ordinate better how we do the work in these areas. We propose specifically a European Research Council that is the equivalent of the American National Science Foundation, that will support the funding of research and development projects and gives us the chance in Europe to be forming the world beating companies in the technologies of the future.”

“Our proposal is that we task the Commission specifically on coming back and reporting to the European Council next year on the challenge facing European universities, how we compete with the United States, how we get more public-private partnership into sustaining them […]”

“[Europe] must increase innovation and research to support tomorrow’s jobs. Germany and France have launched major ­programmes in the most promising ­sectors. I suggest we extend this approach throughout Europe. Such efforts require further funding. France’s proposal is to mobilise the European Investment Bank to double community research capabilities. Let us set up with the bank an instrument endowed with €10bn which, by leveraging public and private co-funding, will generate an additional €30bn in research and innovation projects up to 2013.”   

Energy and the environment “I believe it is time that we developed within Europe a common European energy policy. […] This should focus, not on new regulatory barriers, but rather on obtaining a genuinely open energy market. […] Secondly, we like other major countries in the world, should be prepared to enter into dialogue at a European level with key suppliers of energy, use our collective weight to make our voice heard […]”

“We are now moving into the post-oil and global warming period. Beyond implementing the Kyoto protocol, we must devise together a revolution in our way of life and production methods: energy supplies, transport systems, industry, housing and urban planning. France will submit a memorandum on these issues early next year.”   

Challenges and threats of globalisation “[The] Globalisation Fund […] should […] protecting and helping people in circumstances where restructuring has made them redundant or given them difficulties within the labour market. Now to take an example from the UK recently where we had the Rover works, where thousands of people were made redundant, we didn’t stop the restructuring because it was necessary I am afraid economically, even though tragic for the individuals involved, but we did provide real help with retraining, reskilling, finding new jobs around the workforce in order to protect, not the job, but the individual. “

“Europe must defend its interests at the World Trade Organisation. The Union, which is already the world’s leading importer of agricultural products from developing countries, has shown its commitment to success by reforming the Common Agricultural Policy. It is now time for our partners to make equivalent proposals in a spirit of give and take, in agriculture as well as in manufacturing and services.”  

Migration “We need both to make sure that we have the proper controls on illegal immigration, at the same time as recognising that controlled migration can actually bring a benefit to our European economies. One of the papers  that we publish today […] points out how ironically those countries that have opened their labour markets to those from the accession countries,[…] have actually benefited economically from that opening up. Now I think we need to take those lessons further.” “People would not leave their countries if they had access to a decent living. […] We must endow co-development projects, for example, by providing innovative funding at European level. The second date is the December European Council. To restore confidence in the Union’s workings, we must agree on the 2007-2013 European budget.”
Future model for Europe “We came to the point a few months ago where as a result of the No votes in the referendums, there was a sense that Europe was in paralysis. If we want to get Europe moving again, and in the correct direction, then we have to agree both what that direction is and the specific measures to get us there. […] If we are able to do that then we will at least have made a start on putting Europe back together again, on the right track and moving forward. (On the stalled constitutional ratification process) “Meanwhile, we could think of improving the workings of the institutions within the framework of the existing treaties, especially in economic governance, domestic security and foreign and defence policy.”

 

Reactions to Mr. Blair's speech and to the UK Presidency's agenda for the Hampton Court Informal Council meeting were divided: 

In an article for the Guardian, the Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero backed Mr. Blair: "After last spring's political storms, the EU is going through a difficult moment. The time has come to act again. In the difficult times of its construction, the EU was always able to move forward, and tomorrow's meeting at Hampton Court could be a good time to start."

Also PES President Poul Nyrup Rasmussen  backed Mr. Blair in a joint statement of the two politicians: "Within Europe today, too many of our citizens feel anxious and fretful about the globalising world. As social democrats, we know that globalisation has the potential to transform for the better the lives of billions of the world's citizens, through managed change. The challenge for Europe's socialists and social democratic leaders is to develop new policies that turn globalisation to advantage for Europe and its people."

Graham Brady, shadow Europe minister with the UK Conservatives, said he was "deeply alarmed" when Mr. Blair said he wanted the Hampton Court Council to endorse the Commission communication on "European values in the globalised world": In a section on taxation, that commission paper appeared to fly in the face of previous UK thinking on the role for Europe in co-ordinating tax policy, Mr. Brady said. He said Mr. Blair had fallen into the trap of endorsing a "next step" in the Commission's long-running plan to harmonise tax rates across the EU. "After the French and Dutch No votes to the constitution, he had a once in a generation chance to set a completely different course for Europe, but he has flunked it." 

MEP Monika Frassoni  (Green, Italy) praised Mr. Blair's "performance skills", but warned: "Your skill does not make up for the fact that the Hampton Court summit has been downgraded to a friendly chat about this and that."

Daniel Gros, director with the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels, called the summit meeting "a waste of time. [...] Ninety-five percent of Europe's problems are at the nation-state level, and the leaders may agree on the need for change, but then they return to national Parliaments who resist them," he said.

Jean-Dominique Giuliani, president of the Robert Schuman Foundation  in Paris, said Mr. Blair had engineered a strong start to the presidency with his reform or die speech to the European parliament in the summer. But he added: "It is very difficult for the British government to be at the heart of the European economy because Britain does not belong to the euro. It is very difficult to convince your colleagues [from outside the euro], to create confidence, to have [a] personal relationship."

Charles Grant,  director with the Centre for European Reform, said: "The criticism is understandable and partly justified. Just after [Mr. Blair's June 23 speech to the European Parliament] you had the terrible bombings in London which obviously diverted the government. But if you ask for a debate on the future of Europe you need to follow that up. [...] If there is a deal on the budget - after the start of accession talks with Turkey - it will be seen as successful. If there is no deal on the budget it will be seen as unsuccessful." 

Writing in  the 
Guardian
Timothy Garton Ash sets out his own agenda for the future EU: "Europe should be like a great experimental laboratory, with countries constantly looking over each other's shoulders and stealing each other's best ideas. That's how Europe became the economic powerhouse of the world in the first place, and that's the only way we will regain our dynamism. In the jargon of contemporary business, this is called 'benchmarking'. We agree on the goals: higher growth and productivity, more innovation, less unemployment, reduced poverty. We don't all need to get there by the same route."

The French president, who had suffered illness in September, returned to the political stage with a sacré bang: With an op-ed piece published on 26 October 2005 among others in 
Le Figaro
and the 
Financial Times
, Mr. Chirac managed to set the agenda for the UK Presidency's prestigious Hampton Court summit. 

Mr. Blair followed on with a programmatic speech to the EU Parliament on the same day, addressing many of the same issues as the French president. Mr. Blair found warm words for Commission President José Manuel Barroso, whose communication on "European values in the globalised world" he endorsed wholeheartedly: "It is, I have to say, a stark analysis, but it is the right analysis." The prime minister said that at the Hampton Court Council he wanted "to get that paper agreed and make that the basis then for the discussion we have about Europe, its social model, its economic future."

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe