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Friday, 23 November, 2001, 13:22 GMT
Europe sceptical over Blair's intentions
Tony Blair
Some Europeans feel Tony Blair is too ambivalent
Justin Webb

Most European politicians will have been amazed by the Blair speech. Or more precisely by the reaction to it.

Europe's political classes - both left and right - regard everything Mr Blair said as being simply blindingly obvious.

Of course Britain has made a mess of its relationship with Europe.

Of course successive British politicians have failed to sell Europe to their supporters.

Of course there is a danger of it happening all over again with the euro.

The thesis is unremarkable.

Commitment queried

But the question, so the Europeans will ask, is what can Mr Blair do about it?

Is he really committing himself to being a different kind of British leader?

And if he is, when are we going to see the evidence?

The fact is that there is a great deal of scepticism about whether Mr Blair is going to follow the logic of the case he made with such clarity in Birmingham.

On the euro, is the British government going to get itself into a position where the prime minister wants to join, but his chancellor's much heralded "five economic tests" prevent it happening.

The five tests are regarded in Europe as a political cover for inactivity.

Many European politicians would like to see them downgraded and the political case for entry stressed in future.

Annoyance

In particular, Europeans who want the UK in the single currency focus on the exchange rate and the perceived failure of the British government to "manage" sterling so that it falls in value against the euro.

If sterling does not fall, then sterling cannot enter the euro so it has to happen one day. Why not now, they ask?

But the Europeans' scepticism is not confined to the euro.

There is a wider feeling that Tony Blair tries to hunt with the hounds and run with the foxes.

He is full of pro-European sentiment one day, then the next day is cosying up to George W Bush and going it alone in military action against the Taleban.

There was huge annoyance around the capitals of Europe when Mr Blair called a group of leaders together but left out many of the smaller nations and the representatives of European institutions like the commission.

This kind of thing, the critics argue, is not the action of a genuine European.

This is the action of a man who wants to be European when it suits him but shies away from the true meaning of Europe.

UK fallen behind

Many Europeans believe common positions should be adopted, with genuine weight given to some of those Mr Blair might not regard as his political equals.

Of course, there are some European politicians - particularly in nations like Denmark and Sweden - who regard British reluctance to get stuck into Europe as a positive thing.

They see the UK's role as being a powerful force holding back the onward rush towards integration, a role performed best from the sidelines.

But that is not the majority view.

For most Europeans the arguments being heard so loudly in the UK are ones they stopped having years ago.

They are waiting - as they see it - for the British to catch up.

See also:

23 Nov 01 | Business
Q&A: Is the UK ready for the euro?
21 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Government's 'limp' euro effort attacked
05 Nov 01 | Business
Brown puts brakes on euro ambitions
03 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Euro battle revived by Blair speech
30 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Hain hints about euro entry
23 Nov 01 | Business
Sterling rebounds on Blair reticence
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