Blair has got himself in a dreadful mess over Europe and it is entirely his own fault. If he said earlier in the year that he would accept no reduction in the British rebate without a further reduction in the CAP, then he was placing himself in an impossible position that would inevitably lead to his disillusionment as to his ability to control the political situation. Unfortunately though, it is the rest of us who will have to sufferer the consequences. To say that the British PM inhabits a fantasy world is nothing new; he seems to believe that the British Prime Minister only has to say that something shall happen for it to be so, and that the foreigners will be eternally grateful to have Britain telling them what to do, just as they were in the heyday of the Empire. He has now been brought down to the earth of political reality with a resounding crash and he doesn't like it. His far-right Nationalist supporters like it even less, and no doubt they will soon be joined in their paranoid screams of betrayal and surrender by Nationalists from other parts of the political spectrum. That is his problem but unfortunately it is also a problem for the EU, which he has comprehensively stuffed over the years, and especially the last six months, and which is now showing its profound displeasure with the British way of doing things.
One of the many ways in which the UK is trying to emulate the USA is in the cultivation by the powers that be of a short attention span among the people. In July 2002 the EU agreed major reforms of the CAP, which were warmly welcomed in Britain because they removed the link between subsidy and production. According to the BBC at the time (Farm reforms get UK backing) the then British Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett, thought they were “bold and imaginative”. “They would at a stroke remove many of the incentives to overproduction with the consequent risks of environmental damage which exist in the current system,” she said. Now, however, we are told that this same system is utterly intolerable and must be reformed if the UK is not to take its ball home in a sulk. While this may work with the butterfly minds of Britain who believe whatever the newspaper-owners tell them to believe on that particular day (and here I refer particularly to Her Majesty’s Secretaries of State and other Ministers), there are people in other countries who are able to remember very clearly what was going on three years ago. The BBC has more about it:
While perhaps even more could have been done then to reform the CAP, for Blair to think that the UK can by itself, even from the Presidency, force the reopening of a matter that was settled three years ago to his publicly-stated satisfaction is ingenuous. It is never mentioned either in Britain, among all the xenophobic propaganda about French farmers, that the focus of the CAP is changing: direct aid to production has largely gone and it is being replaced by money for other forms of countryside management. And if anyone in Britain thinks that the European countryside does not need some kind of management, they might like to try imagining that instead of cuddly Robin Hood and his Merrie Men in Sherwood Forest there are less friendly terrorists and major criminal bands operating with impunity in rural areas of those European countries that are much more forested and less densely populated than England, and much more comfortable for rough living in winter than Scotland. As things stand now, the French police have spent decades trying to get ETA out of the Landes of south-west France and it is known that remote parts of Ireland (north and south) have for decades been bandit country. The highwaymen of Olde Englande should be regarded as muggers, not romantic folk heroes.
Moreover, the immediate destruction of European farming, which is the apparent aim of the British Nationalists, would have social consequences similar to those caused by the destruction of the British mining industry, which was also done with no thought for the wider effects. It is curious to see how many people on the British left who vehemently opposed the insensitive demolition of the livelihoods of subsidised British miners now want to visit the very same fate on subsidised foreign farmers.
Meanwhile, Blair, the champion of enlarging the EU, is suggesting that the new members should receive less money than they were initially offered. How to win friends and influence people! He has sat on the budget since the summer and now, at the last minute, he is proposing something that is unacceptable to just about everyone. Is he doing this deliberately, one wonders, in order to wreck things? He is certainly leaving a situation that the Austrians will find exceedingly difficult to remedy. His speech in June to the European Parliament was not the success that the British papers like to suggest it was; his bizarre claim to be ‘a passionate European’ met with ‘muttering’ and ‘derision’ according to El País and the Süddeutsche Zeitung respectively. Is he following Murdoch’s instructions to keep the UK close to the USA and away from the EU, even to do real damage to the EU? In the eight years that Blair has been in power he has done nothing that could be called pro-European and has taken action, especially over Iraq, to cause real problems in Europe. British foreign policy has never welcomed a powerful European power and for centuries has tried to prevent such a thing from emerging. Is Perfidious Albion up to its old tricks again? On 21 June El País reported from London:
Blair appears to have seen a unique opportunity to open a breach in Europe and try to impose his vision, a task in which he yesterday received the warm support of a Conservative Party that declared itself “delighted” with the Prime Minister's firmness in Brussels, while through the Commons there passed the shades of Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, William Pitt and other illustrious patriots who were able to keep the continentals in their place.
The Prime Minister tried to repair one of the greatest tactical errors of his strategy: the kick that he gave at the weekend to the Franco-German motor ended up in the backyard of the extension countries. Blair showed that he can snub with the same scorn as Chirac and the new members began to learn that, ideologies apart, money is always a weighty argument in Brussels. “I fully understand the concerns of the countries of new Europe,” Blair said yesterday. “We want an agreement. We will do everything possible to reach that agreement and ensure that it meets their needs.”
That last sentence has proved to be just
empty words and the ability of the UK to snub the new countries now that they
are in has been demonstrated again. What a surprise from the Eurosceptic Prime
Minister of a Eurosceptic country!
PS The Spanish Government's position paper for the Hampton Court summit is available in English by clicking here.