Blair-Chirac feud 'could destroy Europe'

Posted in Europe | 01-Jul-05 | Author: Nicholas Watt and Michael Whit| Source: Guardian

British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) talks to French President Jacques Chirac (R) before the opening of the EU summit in Brussels June 16, 2005.
Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac are in danger of "destroying" Europe after an Anglo-French bust-up led to the collapse of negotiations on the EU budget, said Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European commission.

On the day that Britain takes over the six-month presidency of the EU, the man running the organisation's executive arm warns both leaders that they must give ground in the battle over Britain's £3.2bn rebate.

Interviewed by the Guardian he said: "The nationalist rhetoric is self-defeating. It is impossible, it is irrational to come to Brussels and to go back to respective capitals saying every time 'we have won', as if it was a kind of boxing championship. People like that are destroying the very idea of Europe. That is my duty to say that."

Mr Barroso, who will lead his 25-strong commission into a summit with the cabinet at Lancaster House today, insists he is not talking about "precise personalities". But there is no doubt who he has in mind after last month's European summit collapsed when President Chirac rejected a proposal by Mr Blair to negotiate the rebate in exchange for reforming the EU's £32bn farm-subsidy budget.

The former Portuguese prime minister, an economic reformer who was Britain's choice to head the commission, balances his criticism by praising Mr Blair as a "very mature" politician who has shown "great leadership" at home.

But he then issues a "friendly warning" to the prime minister to put Europe's interests above Britain's to reach a compromise on the budget. "Britain, as the presidency, has a special duty to make an effort ... In Europe we cannot expect our ideas to be accepted 100%. We have to accept sometimes some compromise."

Downing Street hopes to use the summit to create a strong momentum behind Britain's second EU presidency since Mr Blair came to office. But the collapse of the budget negotiations, following the French and Dutch rejection of the EU constitution, is likely to overshadow the presidency.

Mr Barroso gives a taste of how the no votes have transformed the EU when he ad mits that Turkey's campaign to join is in trouble.

Asked whether Turkey will become a member of the EU in his lifetime, he replies: "I cannot say neither one nor the other. I respect democracy."

While Mr Barroso adopted a stern tone towards his two most recalcitrant member states, Jack Straw yesterday set out Britain's ambitions for the presidency in a tone which was conciliatory and deliberately modest in its expectations.

In a Commons speech, which accompanied the government's regular six month white paper on Europe, the foreign secretary urged the EU to "adapt and survive" in response to changing global conditions.

Mr Straw identified four key elements in the UK agenda:

· A process which leads to a more rational EU budget'

· Economic reform combining social justice with greater efficiency and less bureaucracy

· An outward looking foreign policy that addresses urgent problems like Africa and the Middle East

· Continuing movement towards EU enlargement.