Blair ready to fight for `people's Europe'

Britain in EU: Modernisation needed to oust elitism and waste
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The Independent Online
An attack on the elitism of European Union leaders will be delivered by Tony Blair today at his first summit, in the Dutch coastal town of Noordwijk.

Having turned new Labour into a "people's party", and his government into the "people's government", Mr Blair now wants a modernisation of the EU, to create what he calls a "people's Europe".

The Prime Minister's office said yesterday that he was expected to tell the other heads of government at a special one-day conference that Britain wanted a fresh start, with a more engaged and more constructive approach in pursuit of Britain's national interests, as a major player, ending the years of impotence and defeatism.

But he would also be saying that while there was much that was good, there was also much that was bad in the EU and that the "elites have paid insufficient attention to the people".

A spokesman suggested that Mr Blair would want to exploit his position as a new Prime Minister, elected with a massive majority and deep interest in new Labour across Europe. He would want to use that interest to Britain's advantage.

Mr Blair was said to believe that more had to be done to make people aware of the benefits of Europe, and that the waste and inefficiency of systems such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) had to be reformed.

The spokesman added that there was a sense that the elite was "driving the train", without the people being aboard. Europe had to explain better what it was doing, and close the gap of understanding between the leadership and the people.

There was a good deal of unease, he said, about the pace of integration, and there was no question of the new government allowing the national identity to be submerged in some kind of European superstate.

However, the Prime Minister understood that reform could only be won through constructive debate; through "dialogue, not war". In substance, that meant that while no hard decisions would be taken today on the draft treaty that it expected to be agreed at Amsterdam on 17 June, Britain would be saying that there would be no more British opt-outs - and it was not helpful to threaten vetoes.

As for detail, Britain would insist that its borders were sacrosanct, and that would have to be written into any treaty that came out of Amsterdam. While there was no objection to common agreement between the member states on the European mainland, Britain and Ireland would want to retain control over their own immigration and asylum procedures.

A senior Whitehall source explained that while internal police checks were common in the rest of Europe, there were no identity cards in the United Kingdom, and few internal controls. Controls were therefore required at border posts.

The only detailed change of policy between the Conservative government and the new administration is on its attitude towards formal European arrangements for peace-keeping forces, which Mr Blair will accept.

As for the Government's programme on Europe, the Prime Minister's office said the target was for a completion of the single market within the next 12 months; reform of CAP; enlargement; progress on competitiveness; and more effective co-operation on foreign policy.