Blair Debacle. France Again Calls the Tune

Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac

To prevent Britain’s European Union presidency from becoming a failure, Tony Blair surrendered more of Britain’s EU rebate on Friday night. The British Prime Minister increased his offer of foregoing £5.5 billion over seven years in return for a promise of French President Jack Chirac to review EU spending – including farm subsidies – in 2008. However, as the Roman poet Virgil wrote 

I fear the French, even though they offer promises” (or suchlike).

The deal was arranged in private talks between Blair and Chirac. They were later joined by German chancellor Angela Merkel. She seems to be making a habit of putting pressure on British politicians. Earlier this week she wrote a letter to Tory leader David Cameron to tell him what a naughty boy he was. Yesterday, she told Tony what a good boy he was for making his peace with Jack.

Blair's initial budget proposal had come under attack at the Brussels summit, which began on Thursday, for his attachment to the annual £2.7 billion rebate, negotiated by Margaret Thatcher in 1984. Blair initially said that he was not willing to discuss the issue unless France give up its opposition to reforming the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The agricultural subsidies mostly benefit the French. They were defended by Chirac, who insisted that CAP payments have been fixed until 2014.

We Flemings have been living with French (a local variety called Walloons) in one country, Belgium, for 175 years and by now we know that what you give up to the French, you have lost, and what they have promised, you will never get. This is a lesson the British, apparently, still have to learn. The French, however, know the trick. Note that Jack did not offer a single cent.

Tony, however, is largely to blame for the debacle. “Failure to take charge early meant that Britain would be the victim of events,” Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote in Friday’s Daily Telegraph. “If Mr Blair had seized the lead, he could have forged an alliance of paymaster states, forcing a revolutionary change in EU thinking.” Unfortunately, the British allowed themselves to be isolated, “pilloried across the Continent as a nasty, greedy, narrow- minded pariah.”

Last year, Ambrose points out, Britain was still the “champion of the new states, it was the de facto leader of Europe’s majority camp. For the first time since joining, Britain had out-muscled France.” But Blair failed to flesh out his vision for Europe. The result today?

We are at once the injured party, and the hated culprit – an unanswerable indictment of our diplomacy. [...] The rebate is so warped in design, it has misled Poles, Slovaks, Latvians and fellow Easterners into believing they are victims of a grievous injustice aimed directly at them.”

If there was no deal on the EU budget, and if the British were not prepared to renounce a larger part of their rebate, there was less money for the others to share. As the EU is basically a welfare pot where everyone is positioned to grab as much as possible, the British insistence on keeping their money was considered highly egotistical behaviour – “a lack of solidarity” as it is called – by the new East European EU members, who all joined the EU in the hope of receiving vast subsidies. There is no higher moral imperative in the welfare state, at least for those at the paying end, than the obligation to “solidarity.”

Several EU leaders had announced that they would consider vetoing Britain’s budget proposals. Polish Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz said,

This proposal, if it stays as it is, will be met by a veto from Poland. Everything in it is minimalist, and does not satisfy us at all. […] Tony, stop pretending you’re making steps and I advise you, you’d better make a step or better, make two or three steps. This proposal is in no way satisfactory for Poland.”

Algirdas Brazauskas, Lithuania’s Prime Minister, said,

I am authorised to vote against the [budget] proposal by Great Britain.”

Things were so bad that the French, who have always been hostile to the Poles entering the EU (Polish plumbers “stealing” their jobs!), managed to wheedle the Poles into writing a joint letter. The latter was signed by the French and Polish Foreign Ministers Philip Douste-Blazy and Stefan Meller and published in Thursday’s Financial Times. They wrote,

The UK presidency has put forward a proposal that cannot become the basis of an agreement. In line with it, poorer member states are to make further, substantial sacrifices while one member state, the UK, would see its position considerably improved […] The UK has been a champion of enlargement. We trust it will also be willing to cover the costs it presents.

How the French are gloating, to be able to present themselves as the champions of the “poorer member states” while not contributing a single extra cent, and lecture Britain on its duties to the new member states while France has always opposed enlargement. The President of the European Commission, Barroso, even likened Tony Blair to the Sheriff of Nottingham, “robbing from the poor to give to the rich.”

Subsidies constitute the only reason why countries aspire to be EU members. For this they are willing to sacrifice their freedom. Indeed, the only difference between the late Soviet Union and the EU is that the latter is disguised as Santa Claus. Unfortunately, only one politician in all the former Soviet bloc realizes this: Santa’s namesake, the Eurosceptic Czech President Vaclav Klaus.

This guy Blair

He's such an enigma; his instincts are right on fighting Islamofascism, but he wants to be seen by the world tranzi elite as one of them, and dangerously exposes his country in order to secure promises from worthless get like Chirac. And he's playing to the multi-culti pomo terror-lover crowd at home instead of putting them in jail or the first plane back to whatever hellhole they came from.

If he had the backbone in dealing with Eurofrogs that he showed against Saddam, he'd be a true lion among Brit PMs...

A question that may seem silly.

What does Britain get out of joining the EU exactly? To what end are they sacrificing their freedom to a body composed of autocratic elites chosen from selfish and often hostile governments? What economic benefits from trade could not be accomplished by a Treaty without surrendering soveriegnty and liberty?

Looking from across the Atlantic in the U.S. I can't seem to see the logic.

Bradley's silly question

What does Britain get out of joining the EU exactly?

Bradley, Bradley! The list of benefits is endless.

We get the opportunity to pay for the French to carry on producing their wonderful food, which we are allowed to sample when we go on our holidays there. There is a slight downside to the subsidy system, because it makes everyone else's food much more expensive than market forces would otherwise dictate. Us middle-class types don't worry too much about this though, as it's mainly the poor who bear the brunt of the suffering caused by overpriced food. Still they can always the sample the delicious French wine and cheeses when they take their mini-breaks to Provence. Oh, they can't afford them! Never mind. Nothing's perfect.

And we get to maintain the Spanish fishing fleet. Unfortunately they are so efficient they've nearly swept our seas bare of all the lovely cod we used to enjoy, but it would be churlish to grumble.

And another thing: Europe's bureaucrats are so productive that they've produced more rules and regulations in the few decades since we joined than our idle, native Whitehall chappies could manage in about 300 years. And we can read them all in twenty different languages. You Americans aren't very good at languages, are you? You miss out on all this.

We can now buy Cheddar Cheese made in Greece, but unfortunately not Feta Cheese made in Yorkshire.

We now have an excellent dumping ground for our failed politicians. We used to have to send them to the House of Lords, which has really comfy seats, but now our crooked, old losers can be sent off to a well-paid sinecure in Brussels to round off their careers. I've been reading in recent days about how much you Americans appreciate the negotiating skills of former Blair babe Peter Mandelson. He had to be sacked from the UK government a couple of times for dishonesty (yes, yes, I know the second time it was all a dreadful misunderstanding), but it's gratifying to know there is a place for him in the heart of Europe.

We have the benefit of Mr Chirac's regular homilies on our shortcomings as a nation. As you can imagine, we really appreciate this, especially from a man of his truly fine calibre and blameless public life. A bit like being lectured by Bill Clinton on the sanctity of marriage, I would imagine.

But there's more!

As you know, Britain is the "sick man of Europe", but by our EU membership we get to join in the startling rate of economic growth that is the hallmark of the great European nations. Not for us the stagnation of non-members like China, India, Viet-Nam, Australia, USA, Singapore, Norway or Switzerland. We can share in France, Germany and Italy's bonanza. Unfortunately we haven't yet adopted their whizzy new currency, but I expect we'll see the error of our ways on this eventually.

There is one sour note however. Because of the craven way we are unduly influenced by the USA for historical reasons (some old diehards still feel a smidgeon of gratitude to you), we seem unable to fully enter into the European way of conducting foreign policy. Like you we can't seem to shake off this old imperial habit of blood and sacrifice in the cause of building a free world. I know we'll get over it one day, and learn the European way of soft power - and don't give me that crap about soft power just meaning not being prepared to pay for an proper army.

Hope this makes clear why we Brits have come to love Big Brother, er.... the European Union.

Bob Doney