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Saturday, 15 December, 2001, 19:12 GMT
Blair 'confident' over EU future
Tony Blair at the Laeken summit
Mr Blair was in "an upbeat mood" after the agreements of the summit
Prime Minister Tony Blair has said he is "increasingly confident" that support for a union of nation states in Europe will win over the campaign for a federal "superstate".

Speaking after leaders in Brussels agreed a major review of EU institutions, Mr Blair acknowledged there was still much debate ahead but said things were moving entirely in Britain's favour.

I believe that argument is moving increasingly in our favour: however there is a debate to be had

Tony Blair

He said at a press conference on Saturday: "Of course Europe should co-operate more closely together - that's in the interest of our citizens.

"But it should do so on the basis of nations coming together, not on the basis of a federal superstate. I believe increasingly that argument is moving in our favour."

More member states

The "Laeken declaration" launches the most far-reaching round of negotiations on the EU's long-term development, adapting it to cope with membership rising from 15 to as many as 30 member states in the next few years.

The BBC's John Pienaar said that Mr Blair seemed in "an upbeat mood" over what had been drawn up at the summit, and about Britain's role in the future debate.
Laeken Palace
Laeken Palace is the venue for the summit

At the press conference, Mr Blair was keen to point out that Britain had "gained its points" in many issues discussed at this and at past European councils.

He said: "We participate, we make a difference, we usually gain our point."

Mr Blair also supported the point acknowledged in the declaration that the public wants more practical benefit from EU membership and less interference in daily life.

"In circumstances where Europe does not need to interfere, get Europe out of it," he said.

But later shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram condemned what he called "New Labour spin and the Liberal Democrats' obsession with an EU superstate".

He said: "Yesterday's farce over European involvement in Afghanistan and today's commitment to a constitutional convention bound by a federalist agenda demonstrate clearly that there is still no recognition of the need to bring Europe closer to people, which would be provided by the more flexible Europe that we support."

New appointments

After approving the text of the declaration, the EU leaders picked former French President Giscard D'Estaing to lead the 100-strong "Convention" which will start a year-long debate next March on how the future EU should work.

The convention will include two Westminster parliamentarians and a British Government representative who need not necessarily be a minister.

One of Britain's political representatives is likely to be South Shields MP David Milliband, who will sit on the body's Presidium or Steering Committee, said Mr Blair.

The key issues to be tackled include the division of powers between the European Commission and national governments, how to simplify the complex EU Treaties, and the exact role of national parliamentarians in EU decision-making.

EU officials stress the convention will only offer opinions to the next inter-governmental conference, and it will be the EU leaders alone who will decide what to do.

British officials say that ending public apathy towards the EU must involve being seen to tackle issues such as unemployment, asylum and immigration, cross-border crime, and food safety.

'Right man for job'

The appointment of a 73-year-old politician to lead the Convention has drawn criticism from some Eurocrats, who believe Giscard D'Estaing represents yesterday's Europe.
Valery Giscard d'Estaing
Giscard d'Estaing was backed by French and German presidents and by Mr Blair

Mr Ancram later said: "The present appointments to the presidium do not give us any confidence that they will be an open and unbiased convention."

But Mr Blair said Mr D'Estaing was the right man for the job - someone "very distinguished", with long experience of European affairs and a man whose country's views on the need for a grouping of nation states were similar to Britain's.

He added that he was sure citizens across Europe would all agree to an EU which would ensure "peace, prosperity and security" in the future.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Janet Barrie
"Starter packs for the euro were on sale"
The BBC's Brian Hanrahan in Laeken
speaks to Belgian Foregin Minister Anneme Neyts
Peter Hain, EU minister
"A European constituency can mean two things"
See also:

15 Dec 01 | Europe
EU plots future course
15 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Strong support for UN force - Blair
14 Dec 01 | Europe
EU pledges troops for Afghanistan
12 Dec 01 | Europe
Prodi demands action not words
11 Dec 01 | Europe
Italy U-turn on arrest warrant
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