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Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 10:13 GMT
Blair: Prepare for a 'new Europe'
Tony Blair has outlined a blueprint for reform of the European Union aimed at making it stronger and more democratic.

In a keynote speech in Cardiff the prime minister called for more powers for European institutions and a new fixed presidency for the EU to help increase Europe's prestige in the world.

Key points
EU a bigger force in world
Not a federal "superstate"
More majority voting
Creation of European "team presidency"
Strengthen foreign policy
Overhaul defence policy
Adopt European constitution
He said enlargement of the EU would create "a new Europe", making the time right for sweeping reforms.

The speech prompted the Conservatives to accuse Mr Blair of advocating a European federal superstate.

Backing calls for an EU constitution, he said he wanted to see a Europe that is effective and democratic - a strengthening of Europe at every level".

He said Europe's leadership and role in the world was "too weak", the pace of reform was too slow, while the enforcement of laws was haphazard.

Fears

But while embracing calls for an EU constitution, he tempered the strong pro-Europe feel of the speech by rejecting the idea of a federal "superstate".

Mr Blair said he wanted to see a fixed presidency of the European Council to replace the current rotating six-month presidency.

He said it would give the EU more influence on the world stage.

But to counter the fears of smaller countries, the plan would also see the creation of a "team presidency" including representatives from around the EU.

Mr Blair also called for the power of the European Council - made up of leaders of EU countries - to be increased, with more majority voting.

Frustrations

The speech set out the UK's aims for the EU Convention, chaired by the former French President Valery Giscard D'Estaing, which is drawing up a blueprint for the union.

The prime minister said that "whatever the day to day frustrations, Europe has been and remains a success".

But he said the enlargement of the EU provided an opportunity for reform in the face of apathy and lack of understanding about Europe.

He said Britain must choose to be a full partner with the rest of the EU rather than "following warily a path beaten by others" as it had in the past.

On the euro, Mr Blair said it would be right for the UK to join if the Treasury's five tests were met.

Gradual

"We should of course join if the economic conditions are right," he said. "A single currency with a single market for Europe makes economic sense."

Mr Blair said there should be changes to the EU's recently-adopted security and defence to give it more power above "low-level peacekeeping".

And there should be a gradual strengthening of Europe's foreign policy.

He said that in the aftermath of 11 September, or in terms of dealing with Iraq "the collective European voice is at times hesitant".

He said Europe must become a partner of the US - not its "servant or its rival".

'Tory fears'

Mr Blair said: "Europe is set for dramatic change.

"Together the expansion of Nato and the enlargement of the European Union amount to no less than the creation of a new Europe."

Mr Blair argued that more majority voting will be needed to prevent gridlock in decision-making when the 15-nation EU admits 10 new members in 2004.

Vetoes on key areas like taxation or the declaration of war would be protected.

Mr Blair argued that the European Commission should be given more clout in terms of dealing with member states which break EU rules.

Tory shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram said Mr Blair had changed his tack on a European constitution in recent years.

Mr Ancram said: "He tells us that he wants to 'democratise' Europe. We agree that Europe needs democratisation.

"Yet how can it be democratic for a new EU President to be chosen by Europe's prime ministers and presidents, as Mr Blair advocates? This is elitism par excellence."


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26 Nov 02 | Politics
20 Nov 02 | Politics
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26 Feb 02 | Europe
27 Nov 02 | Business

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