[Marxism] Blair set to dump plan for crucial Europe poll

Jack Cade jack.cade at btinternet.com
Sat May 28 18:17:46 MDT 2005


Blair set to dump plan for crucial Europe poll

. Britain and France go to war on EU future

. Pro-Europe camp ready to abandon fight

by Gaby Hinsliff London and Alex Duval Smith Paris

London Observer, Sunday 29 May

TONY BLAIR will be forced to shelve the controversial European
constitution treaty if the French reject it today, with leading
pro-European allies declaring they will abandon the fight.

The Prime Minister is braced for the future of Europe to be
plunged into turmoil for 12 months amid arguments over the
crucial treaty.

Whitehall sources also said that they are ready for fierce
clashes with the French government, expected to wreak revenge for
their expected defeat by blocking British plans for the accession
of Turkey and for economic liberalisation.

That could trigger months of chaos at the heart of the European
Union, with the Treasury this weekend signalling it would not
back down on economic reform, whatever the reaction from the
French public.

Downing Street's options were narrowing fast last night as allies
from across the political spectrum made clear that Blair would be
on his own if he pressed ahead with the treaty without French
backing. Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign
affairs spokesman, said it would be 'ludicrous' to hold a vote in
Britain in such circumstances, while Kenneth Clarke, the
best-known Tory face of a 'yes' campaign, has said he 'cannot for
the life of me see the point' of carrying on.

Blair is expected to avoid declaring the treaty dead tomorrow,
even if the French emphatically reject it. But a senior Whitehall
source said even if the project survived, the earliest France
could realistically hope to put the constitution to its people
again successfully was 2007: 'I can't see how it can be done in
the normal timescale.'

With business backers also expected to stop funding in the event
of a 'no' vote, the cross-party 'yes' campaign Britain in Europe
is also expected to put itself into mothballs - an unfortunate
end to eight years of Blair's attempts to deepen engagement with
the EU.

France will vote today, but the most recent opinion polls show
the No Campaign narrowly in the lead, with ratings of between 51
and 56 per cent. The constitution is designed to speed up
decision-making now the EU has enlarged, drop the national veto
on some issues, and give the EU its own foreign minister - but
its political significance extends beyond such details.

Sources said officials close to French president Jacques Chirac
were already blaming the overly British flavour of the treaty,
and threatening to block Blair's plans for EU reform - supposed
to be showcased when Britain takes over the rotating EU
presidency at the beginning of July - in a 'France first'
strategy to recoup political capital.

Anti-Turkish feeling and resentment over the last wave of EU
enlargement are thought to have driven many French voters into
the 'no' camp. Key targets are the so-called 'services
directive', which France argues would allow eastern European
workers to undercut the pay and conditions of native citizens,
and the accession of Turkey, talks on which are due to begin this
autumn.

'We strongly support that directive, but it has been the
Frankenstein directive of the French campaign,' said a senior
Whitehall source. 'People might say [if there is a 'no'] that
Tony Blair gets let off a referendum we can't win, but he
believes he could have won and other things that are much more
important to us could be lost as a result.'

The scene is now set for a major clash of wills across the
Channel, even if the referendum produces a grudging 'yes', with
the Treasury stressing this weekend it was in no mood to back
down.

'We are only going to convince European people from whichever
country if they can see that Europe is promoting their best
interests in terms of standards of living and employment,' said a
Treasury source. 'Regardless of what happens with the
constitution, we will still feel that we have to almost redouble
the efforts on economic reform. There is no suggestion that we
would either back off or allow the agenda to be diluted - quite
the opposite.'

Serious talks on the way forward if the French vote 'no' will
begin in mid-June, at the council of ministers. Britain, which
within a fortnight of the meeting will hold the EU presidency, is
expected to leave the first move to countries where referendums
are imminent, such as Denmark and Poland.

UK politicians, however, are already preparing for the referendum
to be scrapped. 'If France, which has been part of the
traditional engine room of Europe votes not to accept the treaty,
there would be no point in having a referendum in the UK,' said
Campbell. 'Can you imagine trying to get the turnout up against a
background of a French veto?

Lucy Powell, director of Britain in Europe, said that a French
'no' was likely to deter other countries from investing in
possibly doomed campaigns: 'I think we will see a domino effect,
if there's a French 'no'. I don't think it will be just the
British. For the Danish, the Polish, the Czechs and other
countries where it wasn't going to be a fait accompli , is it
worth waiting until September and there being another negative
vote?'






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