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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 April, 2005, 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK
What's happened to Europe?
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

So whatever happened to Europe as an issue in the UK general election campaign?

Tony Blair at EU meeting
Mr Blair has postponed decisions
In the 2001 poll, then Tory leader William Hague put saving the pound at the very heart of his strategy, claiming a vote for Labour would mean certain death for sterling.

It didn't do him any good, mind you, and Britons still have their beloved pound despite having overwhelmingly ignored his warnings

But there is no doubt this is still an issue which worries large numbers of voters and, since 2001, Britain has seen the growth in anti-EU groups such as the UK Independence Party and Veritas.

Arguably, the issue is of even greater significance now that EU states are being asked to accept a new constitution - seen by critics as a major step towards a United States of Europe.

QUICK GUIDE

Yet in election 2005 in the UK the issue has virtually disappeared from the agenda.

Single currency

None of the big parties have made much of it in their manifestos or their campaigns, leaving the field pretty clear for those anti-EU groups.

Party workers say it is not even being raised on the doorstep during campaigning. And that seems to suit the big two parties just fine.

Euros
Single currency conditions
The Liberal Democrats remain unashamedly pro-Europe, wanting swift entry into the single currency and ratification of the constitution. But even they aren't bothering to push the issue up the agenda.

There are several reasons to explain why this particular dog has not barked, let alone bitten, during this election. But they pretty much boil down to one single word - referendum.

UK voters have been promised national votes on both entry into the single currency and, more recently, the constitution.

This is an unusual development in the UK, where referendums are rare and not seen as an integral part of the traditional democratic process.

Long grass

The last was held 30 years ago and secured the UK's place within the EU.

But Prime Minister Tony Blair has discovered their usefulness in defusing otherwise highly-dangerous political issues.

They are all steadfastly ignoring the fact that our real government is in Brussels
Dr John Whittaker MEP

Firstly, he pledged one on entry into the single European currency and allied it with five tough economic (some would argue political) conditions which would have to be met before such a course could even be considered.

This succeeded in kicking the issue into the long grass.

The lesson was not lost on Mr Blair.

Vote loser

As public concern over the constitution began to stir in the UK, and when the anti-constitution Tory party weighed in with a promise for a vote on it as soon as possible, it became clear it threatened to turn into a major election issue.

HAVE YOUR SAY
It seems ridiculous in such an important transitory period for the EU it is not brought up as an election issue
Andrew Prudames, Leeds, UK

For Labour, the fear was it could be a vote loser as polls suggest referendums would be comprehensively lost.

So, after originally setting his face firmly against a referendum on the constitution, Tony Blair changed his mind.

He may have landed himself with an even bigger problem after the election, if he should win it. But he will cross that bridge when he comes to it.

For now the move has served its purpose and any attempt to raise these issue during this campaign can be easily defeated with the simple words: "it will be up to the people to decide".





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