UK Presidency: Hip hip but no hooray

In spite of widespread relief over the EU budget deal at the December summit, the UK presidency has scored less than brilliant marks from most observers.

The UK presidency ‘inherited’ the challenge of making a deal on the financial perspectives 2007-2013 from the Luxembourg presidency, and this issue dominated the policy agenda of the presidency. 

In the process the UK came in for a lot of criticism for only putting a draft proposal on the table at a very late stage, but in the end the 15-16 December summit did hammer out a deal.

The debate on economic reform and meeting the challenges of globalisation, were dealt with at the informal summit at Hampton court in October. Again the efforts did not quite match the expectations.

A deal has been concluded on REACH, which will now go back to the Parliament for a second reading.

The UK also managed to broker a deal on the start of EU negotiation talks with Turkey.     

Graham Watson, MEP and leader of the Liberal and Democrat Group: "Mr. Blair raised EU expectations in June but has failed to capitalise on them. However, like many of his fellow Heads of State and Government, he has failed to use his six months at the helm to tackle, head-on, the sceptics and cynics who are quick to deride and misrepresent the EU. Both at home and abroad, this has been a Presidency of too many missed opportunities." ."

Alexander Stubb, MEP, Finland, EEP is more upbeat: “It’s been a bloody brilliant presidency, one of the best by a big country. Two major pluses have been Turkey and the budget, while a minus has been failure to follow up the constitution.”

Dirk Sterckx, MEP Belgium, Liberal: "This has been more a success of style than result. The UK is a good negotiator and good administrator. But I will vote against the budget unless it is improved."

Elmar Brock, MEP, Germany, EEP: “The British presidency has done its duty. We now have a budget, but it has not made a major impact on the EU’s development.”

Monica Frassoni, MEP, Italy, Green: “This was not a successful presidency. It did nothing on things we asked for such as better regulation and Cyprus and very little on the environment and climate change.”

Timothy Kirkhope, MEP and leader of the British Conservatives, said: "History will judge this presidency as a series of wasted opportunities.  There is so much that could have been done.  Instead, there has been drift, indecision and an absence of leadership. There was no leadership on the future of Europe without the constitution.  There was no leadership on reforming the social model. There was no leadership on achieving a properly reformed EU budget. Tony Blair has failed to protect the British interest.  He has given away £7 billion. What has he got in return?  Nothing. The British people have been deceived.  We have just a vague and meaningless promise that farm spending will be reviewed in 2008."

Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau says that during his six months in the EU driving seat, Mr Blair failed to shift his country into the "heart of Europe" and calls the results "rather meagre". Lack of courage left room for no more than "minor compromises" and "reluctant concessions". H

Radio Nederland's Thijs Papôt, writes:" Although the opposition - and much of the press - in the UK immediately lashed out at the budget deal as a sell out of British interests by the Labour prime minister, Tony Blair himself will be able to look back with satisfaction on a turbulent presidency for his country. While the commencement of membership talks with Turkey was previously the most prestigious undertaking by the British presidency, the new breakthrough on the EU's finances is the crowning glory of its six-month term in that position. A remarkable feat for a country which has traditionally put a foot on the brakes in the European context".

Peter Riddell writes in the Times: "To talk of failure, surrender and betrayal is nonsense. That is the language of those who see EU membership in crude us versus them terms. On a wider view, the achievements look more modest. In late June, Mr Blair gave a widely praised speech urging greater reform of the EU to meet global challenges. But, as a recent Chatham House report noted, Britain failed to capitalise on the opportunity with a detailed plan. This is a familiar fault: a strong speech, but no consistent follow-up. Mr Blair raised expectations unrealistically, in view of French hostility to further liberalisation and political uncertainty in Germany for most of the presidency."

John Hontelez, Secretary General of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said: "The European Council conclusions on the Financial Perspective ignore the demands from the Commission, the European Parliament and the Environment Council, for a significant allocation of EU funds to the protection of Europe 's biodiversity. Rural Development funds, which have a lot of potential for improving our environment, have been slashed, and the final settlement remains in the dark about a budget for environmental policy work over the coming years. The deal ignores one of the key tasks for the EU in the eyes of European citizens - protecting and improving the EU environment, also laid down as an obligation in the EU treaties. "
The Royal Institute of International Affairs, London gioves a sobering account, and writes that "the desire of the UK to focus its Presidency on Europe’s economic competitiveness has been less than successful and illustrates the impossibility for a six-month EU Presidency to bring about significant change during its period of office. A more balanced judgment on the UK Presidency is that it has been competent but uninspirational, rather than a disaster, and has a number of achievements to its credit.

The UK presidency started in July 2005 and ends in December. It got off to a good start with UK PM Tony Blair's inspired speech in the European Parliament in late June. But the subsequent delivery has been met with a lot of scepticism.

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