Blair lays out EU position to French in Le Figaro

4th July 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 3 (AFP) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair has taken his dispute with French President Jacques Chirac over the direction of the European Union to the French people directly, writing a column in Monday's Le Figaro newspaper in which he defends his idea of EU budget reform and calling for a economically vibrant Europe.

PARIS, July 3 (AFP) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair has taken his dispute with French President Jacques Chirac over the direction of the European Union to the French people directly, writing a column in Monday's Le Figaro newspaper in which he defends his idea of EU budget reform and calling for a economically vibrant Europe.

The current internal EU crisis, triggered by the French and Dutch rejection of a proposed EU constitution, was not a sign the European Union was failing, but rather that many of its policies needed revising, argued Blair, whose country this month took up the rotating, six-month EU presidency.

"The crisis we face is not one of political institutions. It is a crisis of political leadership," he wrote, according to an advance English-language transcript supplied by his office.

"The purpose of political leadership is to get the policies right for today's world. For 50 years Europe's leaders have done that. Now, almost 50 years on, we have to renew," he said.

Blair -- who is next to meet Chirac on Wednesday along with other leaders of the Group of Eight developed nations -- reiterated his position calling for the liberalisation of the EU economy while keeping principles of its existing social security regimes intact.

Significantly, he repeated his insistence that Britain would bow to demands from France and other EU countries for it to give up its multi-billion-euro rebate from the EU budget only if further reductions were made to costly EU agricultural subsidies which greatly benefit French farmers. Chirac has refused to link the two issues and has ruled out cuts to the subsidies.

That latter ground of contention proved insurmountable at an EU summit last month which collapsed amid acrimonious exchanges between Blair and Chirac.

Their respective governments have since signalled that no backdown on either side was forthcoming -- especially not during Britain's EU presidency.

Blair acknowledged that "Europe is in the midst of a profound debate about its future" but added: "It's a debate, however, that should not be conducted by trading insults. Nor should there be an attempt to shut off new ideas by representing those who want change as intent on betraying the European ideal."

While he personally backed the EU constitution as a "sensible set of rules for the enlarged EU," he said many Europeans did not think it addressed the problems they felt were upending their traditional lives: "Globalisation, job security, … pensions and living standards."

What was needed, Blair asserted, was a Europe that kept its "caring social dimension" while creating jobs and prosperity to keep pace with US productivity rates and increased competition from countries such as India.

"We have to modernise our social model," he wrote.

"We need to do more -- and faster -- on jobs, labour market participation, school leavers and lifelong learning. We need more investment in knowledge, in skills, in active labour market policies, in science parks and innovation, in higher education, in urban regeneration, in help for small businesses."

Reforming the budget was key to that plan, Blair said.

"We need a fundamental review of how this budget is spent. I have said that the British rebate is on the table as part of this review," he said, though he added that even with the rebate Britain was paying more into the budget than France.

The prime minister touched on other issues beyond the economic and social spheres, saying better coordination was required on immigration, fighting crime, and boosting Europe's joint defence capabilities.

"Such a Europe... would be a confident Europe" that would "capture the imagination and support of the people of Europe," he said.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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