Saturday, 9 August 2014

Tony Blair and Europe

Tony Blair, British Labour Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007

As British Prime Minister (1997-2007) Tony Blair was a Europhile. He felt his mission was to reinforce EU institutions and decisions. The UK took part actively in the work of the Commission and in Brussels debates and votes during his time. He saw the EU as a means of promoting British interests too.

"I believe in Europe as a political project. I believe in Europe with a strong and caring social dimension. I would never accept a Europe that was simply an economic market." (2005)

Blair was a firm believer in the free market (though leader of the Labour Party). He wanted to promote the single market, and a more flexible labor market. The gas and electricity industries as well as the financial markets needed to be liberalized.

During the 1998 UK Presidency of the EU, Blair said that he wanted Britain to join the eurozone.

Tony Blair wanted reform of the CAP, which he considered too expensive; the EU should instead invest more in dynamic and innovative sectors of the economy. British contributions to the EU Development Budget for new member countries increased (and effectively reduced the UK rebate by 20% to the satisfaction of European partners). For him, accepting former Eastern Bloc countries as members was a good thing. He considered that the EU should invest in job creation, especially in the knowledge-based economy.

His vision of Europe was one which promoted solidarity among nations in order to preserve peace, prosperity and democracy. No individual country, he thought, however powerful, can alone defend democratic values. Tony Blair wanted to promote a strong Europe. He signed the Amsterdam Treaty which reinforced the Common Foreign and Security Policy. He saw the UK’s close relations with the USA as a plus for Britain’s European partners.

He also wanted the EU to fight organized crime and illegal immigration. 

Tony Blair did not approve of Margaret Thatcher’s attitude to Europe nor of the fact that John Major had obtained concessions for the UK in the Maastricht Treaty (on issues such as the single currency, employment, and defence). He signed the Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty (which included the minimum wage and the 48-hour working week). He also signed the European Convention on Human Rights (allowing citizens to defend their rights at the European Court of Human Rights).

During the 2005 UK Presidency of the EU, he put the accent on "modernizing" the EU: "It is a time to recognise that only by change will Europe recover its strength, its relevance, its idealism and therefore its support amongst the people." (23 January 2005).

The European Constitution, which included the proposal for a full-time president of the European Council and a common defence policy, was rejected in referendums in France and in the Netherlands in Spring 2005... In June of the same year, in an address to the Members of the European ParliamentTony Blair said: "This is a union of values, of solidarity between nations and people, of not just a common market in which we trade but a common political space in which we live as citizens."

For him, the EU had to reform so as to deal with globalization: "We should be leading the way in Europe, shaping the direction of Europe, participating in debates and working in partnership with the others for a more prosperous economy for our people." Modernizing the EU was necessary in order for European voters to believe in it once more.

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