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Monday, 15 June, 1998, 08:27 GMT 09:27 UK
Blair to reject attacks on EU presidency
By BBC News online's Nick Assinder.

This week's Cardiff EU summit marks the end of the UK's six month presidency of the EU and Tony Blair is determined to show it has been a great success.

He will claim that the government's objectives, spelled out when he took over the job in January, have been met.

The fight against unemployment, protection of the environment, reform of the costly common agricultural policy and the fight against drugs have all moved forward over the past six months.

And the recent decision by the European commission to recommend the lifting of the ban on British beef has come at exactly the right time.

It will allow the government to claim that it was their constructive approach to Europe, in contrast to the Tories' confrontational stance, that made the move possible.

Fierce criticism

But the UK's presidency has also come in for some fierce criticism from other member states and the Opposition.

euro logo
The euro had a troubled launch
The single great event of the six months was always going to be the official launch of the single European currency.

It has been the major European project for decades and EU leaders were desperate to give the euro a rousing launch.

But the entire event was overshadowed by a row over which country's candidate was to become head of the new central bank, which will oversee the currency.

A bitter summit wrangle dragged on way past the set deadline on May 2 into the small hours of the following morning before a classic fudge was agreed that will see the first chairman stand down before his term of office expires to make way for a French candidate.

Mr Blair was blamed for the fiasco, with leaders accusing him of failing to prepare properly for the meeting and get the wrangling out of the way early.

Failed motion

The embarrassment was followed last week when the European Parliament - which is dominated by the socialist group - failed to support a motion praising Britain for its presidency.

The MEPs were angry at the mishandling of the single currency launch and they were also unhappy that Labour members had tried to beef up the statement to make it more congratulatory than usual.

Most recently, Chancellor Gordon Brown was also excluded from a meeting of the committe overseeing the launch of the euro, because Britain is not committed to joining.

Mr Blair will also face the danger of a Franco-German ambush on the future political integration of the EU states.

While German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President Jacques Chirac have openly supported Mr Blair's vision of an open Europe comprised of sovereign states, they have also insisted political union is an essential part of the Euro project.

If they decide to pursue the issue at the Cardiff summit, Mr Blair could find himself with another embarrassment on his hands.

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook was ridiculed in the Commons on Thursday when he suggested Britain's presidency had delivered "real progress" on the key issues.

Sense of direction

Robin Cook: steady progress?
"We have delivered real progress on our people's agenda of jobs, the environment and the fight against crime and drugs.

"We have developed a clear sense of direction for reform of the common agricultural policy, and we are winning the debate in Europe on subsidiarity," he said.

But shadow spokesman Michael Howard accused him of displaying "the insufferable complacency which MPs had become accustomed to."

The Cardiff Summit was likely to be the "farewell whimper" of Britain's presidency when it should have been "its crowning glory", he said.

"The truth is that the vote of the European Parliament was a humiliation for you. Behind that humiliation lies another truth - the presidency has been a flop."

The challenge for Mr Blair when the EU leaders meet in Cardiff on Monday and Tuesday will be to show that the six months actually achieved real progress.

See also:

02 Jun 98 | UK Politics
09 Jun 98 | Europe
04 Jun 98 | Business
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