Blair 'will stand up for Britain in Europe'

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The Independent Online

Political Editor

Tony Blair, the Labour leader, will today warn Helmut Kohl, the German Chancellor, of his "determination to stand up for British interests" if he takes over the inter-governmental negotiations on Europe's future after the next general election.

At his first meeting with Mr Kohl in Bonn today, and in a keynote speech, the Labour leader will put down a marker that Europe should not expect a Labour government simply to sign up to an integrationist agenda set by its partners.

It is now widely accepted that the inter-governmental conference (IGC) beginning next year will not reach firm conclusions until after the election. Mr Blair's speech to the Freidrich Ebert Stiftung , Germany's Social Democratic think-tank, is designed to establish that Labour would come to the conference with its own agenda for EU reform.

Mr Blair will make it clear he believes the IGC should not be "a great leap forward but rather a rationalisation" to ensure the EU performs "more effectively and more openly".

The Labour leader will adopt a confidently pro-European tone, emphasising that a Labour-led UK would play a full part in the joint leadership of the EU. But he will make it clear that the party not only has its own proposals for reform but that at least on some critical issues - for example fighting protectionism and seeking more decision making by individual member states - it shares some of the Government's views of the EU's future development.

Mr Blair will say today: "If the IGC goes on to 1997 a Labour government may find itself negotiating the final stages. We will propose reforms to make the EU more accountable, more efficient and more open.

"But no one should under-estimate our determination to stand up for British interests just as the Germans stand up for German interests."

He will emphasise that a Labour government would not give up the veto on security issues, taxation, treaty changes and its right to maintain border controls. And he will go out of his way to welcome the declaration by Jacques Santer, the Commission President, that the IGC will not further extend its competence to new issues which it does not cover at present.

Although Mr Blair is not expected to commit himself to how, if at all, the powers of the European parliament should be extended, he will say that he wants the Commission to be made more accountable to both member state parliaments and to the European Parliament.

He will also emphasise the need for wholesale reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.