Whatever his motivations, Tony Blair has highlighted some of the most important questions facing European leaders
By Peter Hoskin
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Liam Fox isn’t the only one-time member of the Cabinet talking about Europe today — Tony Blair’s at it too. Our former Prime Minister has delivered a speech in which he proposes a directly elected President for Europe. Apparently, it’s the “most direct way to involve the public” in European politics.
But before you guffaw at this modest little proposal of Mr Blair’s, it’s worth noting that his speech does actually say something more than that. His argument basically comes in three parts:
i) To deal with its current crisis, and to stave off any future crises, the eurozone needs to be more economically integrated:
“The economics imply a strategy based less on incremental steps; and more on a ‘Grand Bargain’ agreement that deals with liquidity per the ECB; solvency with the necessary fiscal transfers; banking union; a large degree of fiscal coordination; far reaching structural reform; and the back loading not front loading of austerity plans, to protect growth – and all at once.”
ii) Economic integration will require greater political integration:
“Put simply there can’t be the integration of large areas of economic policy – banking union, fiscal union, even the prospect of an EU Treasury – without a commensurate political union. So inevitably now, along with the resolution of the immediate crisis, comes the investigation of what such a union would look like.”
iii) Political integration will gain legitimacy from democratic involvement:
“So designing this new union will be very difficult. Let me make a few quick reflections. A Europe wide election for the Presidency of the Commission or Council is the most direct way to involve the public. An election for a big post held by one person – this people can understand. The problem with the European Parliament is that though clearly democratically elected, my experience is people don’t feel close to their MEP’s. This could change but only if the European Parliament and National parliaments interact far more closely.”
In the broadest sense — putting aside details such as whether there should be a directly elected European President — both Eurosceptics and Europhiles might agree with the above. The differences really kick in when it comes to the question of British involvement in this new union. There are those who would want to see it restricted to the eurozone, thus affording Britain an opportunity to step back from Europe’s core. And there are those who will want to see Britain wrapped up with the whole process, a fully signed-up state in the federation of Europe.
As for Blair’s position, it’s rather unclear. His speech flits imprecisely between the European Union and the Eurozone, just as it flits from saying that “a single currency along with a single market makes sense for Europe” to arguing that “the rest of the EU will have to understand and hopefully accommodate the UK’s very special position in the financial sector”. But, as a former Prime Minister, he can afford a little impreciseness on these questions. The current PM, you feel, will not enjoy the same freedom.