Hand it to New Labour: they're not ones for the subtle approach. At exactly 11.20am in the modern and dynamic setting of the Channel Tunnel rail terminal, a modern and dynamic Eurostar express glided in to Platform 24, and a modern and dynamic Prime Minister launched Britain's modern and dynamic stewardship of the EU for the first six months of 1998.
True, the specially chartered train had come only from Clapham Junction, not Brussels, for the occasion. But it was decked out in the new logo of 15 different stars, designed and painted by children from each EU member country, and whose image Downing Street and the Foreign Office had been guarding beforehand as tightly as the Trident missile launch codes. And like everything else yesterday, the logo was on message.
The children who produced it had worked in teams, Mr Blair said, "And we want a Europe that works together as a team. A Europe in which our countries retain their distinctive identities as the children do in the logo, but work together to tackle common problems for the practical benefit of all." As with most set-piece Euro- occasions, the air was thick with pious generalities. The British presidency was a test of British leadership and Europe's capacity to embrace change (and - he might have added - a test for the Government's organisational skills, given the 50 ministerial and summit meetings, 150 gatherings of senior EU officials, and 1,500 expert working groups it must chair over the six months to 30 June).
Like Prime Ministers past and probably future, he railed against the "cost and waste" of the Common Agricultural Policy. Dutifully, Mr Blair promised to work for a successful launch of the single currency, in which Britain of course will not be taking part. Once again, he stressed the importance of the EU enlargement negotiations that begin on 31 March, and promised new common action on crime, drugs, and the environment. Tory "indecision, vacillation and, let's face it, anti-Europeanism" were a thing of the past, he vowed.
Most striking perhaps was his commitment to a "Third Way" for Europe, pitched between outmoded state intervention and unrestrained laissez-faire capitalism.
It would depend on "education not regulation", and on open markets rather than protectionism. The crucial tests would come over completion of the single market, and reform of Europe's over-rigid labour markets.
But Mr Blair will only put flesh on these bones in January, with a speech detailing Britain's plans for the presidency. Yesterday, he devoted scarcely a word to such unpleasantnesses as the row over Britain's exclusion from the single currency inner council, and the ban on beef exports. Britain would be a leader of Europe, he insisted. But he did not say how it would achieve this while shunning the common currency.
But at least there was that logo, 15 cute little stars that looked like multicoloured starfish, painted by 30 cute little children who were guests at Downing Street yesterday.
It looks harmless enough, certainly less risky than the logo marking the last British EU presidency in 1992. That one depicted a lion putting its head into the Euro-flag's circle of stars - only to have it comprehensively bitten off when the pound was driven from the ERM on Black Wednesday.
This time though, it is Italy which may be miffed. Bang in the middle of the stella Italiana sits not an Olivetti, a Fiat, or a Ferrari - but a pizza.Reuse content