Cardiff Summit: Blair sermon on Europe's loss of faith

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REFORMS TO tackle a loss of faith in the European Union among its citizens are to be pushed forward at a special summit this autumn, it was announced last night.

Tony Blair will meet his counterparts in Vienna this October to debate the future of Europe after agreement that the union must be decentralised.

The Prime Minister told the Cardiff European Council meeting yesterday that citizens of Europe felt they had too little influence on its institutions. "I hope there can be a strong agreement that we need a decentralised Europe, not some federal super-state," he said in a television interview.

Mr Blair's comments echoed those in a letter from the German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, and the French President, Jacques Chirac, last week underlining the sovereignty of member states.

The Prime Minister's spokesman said last night there were two possible ways forward - to improve the institutions of the EU, for instance through an elected president of the European Commission, or to enhance the roles of member governments and their parliaments.

In his discussions with other European leaders in the run-up to this week's summit, Mr Blair had found much more support for the latter approach, he said.

In his remarks at yesterday's meeting the Prime Minister welcomed the letter sent by Chancellor Kohl and President Chirac. He also stressed that he did not wish to bash the European Commission, which had a valid role to play in ensuring that respect for the European Union was maintained and in delivering the single market.

"Citizens of Europe do have concerns about the European Union and its institutions and if we are to maintain their confidence we need to ensure that they don't feel remote from the EU and its decision-making processes," the Prime Minister's spokesman said.

Chancellor Kohl had made a powerful statement about the issue yesterday, he added, saying his position was in no way anti-Europe but that people had to be able to see decisions being made at a local level. "I think it is fair to say that there was consensus on this as a problem. The electors want to be part of a strong European Union but they do feel remote from its institutions and that gap has got to be closed if the European Union is to continue to demand support for the decisions that it takes," he said.

The move underlines a warning in a leaked internal Labour Party policy document, reported in The Independent yesterday, that the European Union was losing the support of its citizens.

The paper, approved by a committee chaired by Mr Blair, quoted research showing that fewer than half Europe's citizens believe the European Union is "a good thing" compared to 70 per cent in 1990.