Blair plans to reduce the power of Brussels

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair will tomorrow propose sweeping reforms of the European Union that would entrench decision-making in the hands of nation states to prevent a drift towards a "United States of Europe".

Tony Blair will tomorrow propose sweeping reforms of the European Union that would entrench decision-making in the hands of nation states to prevent a drift towards a "United States of Europe".

In a long-awaited speech in Warsaw mapping out his vision of the EU, Mr Blair will propose that MPs from the 15 national parliaments sit in a new "second chamber" in the European Parliament. They could rule on which decisions should be taken at national rather than EU-level, and whether unnecessary regulations from Brussels should be scrapped.

The Prime Minister will enter an intense debate over the EU's future direction, which has already been launched by France and Germany. Despite Denmark's "No" vote in its single currency referendum last week, Mr Blair is unlikely to signal any cooling of his support in principle for British membership.

Instead, Mr Blair's aides believe Denmark's rejection of further integration has highlighted the need to reform the EU's "top-down" decision-making process.

The PM will disappoint Britain's Euro MPs by saying that boosting the powers of the European Parliament is not the way to bridge the so-called "democratic deficit" in the EU.

Instead, decision-making would be entrenched in the hands of ministers from the 15 EU member states.

Under the Blair blueprint, the ministers would wrest some of the power to set the EU's agenda from the Brussels-based European Commission, which would in effect be downgraded. This is likely to win the support of France and Germany. However, Mr Blair is more cautious than Paris and Berlin about the prospect of a "two-speed Europe".

Mr Blair's address has been planned for several months, and it is being compared in Downing Street to the famous "Bruges speech" by Margaret Thatcher. But Mr Blair's speech will be from an avowedly pro-European standpoint. Aides say it will be a constructive contribution to ensure Britain influences the EU debate at the outset and is not left on the sidelines.

Mr Blair's approach has been heavily influenced by Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform think-tank, who has proposed that half the members of the European Parliament should be sacked and replaced by members of national parliament.

Because of the low turnout in elections to the European Parliament, Mr Grant has called for them to take place at the same time as general elections. He has also proposed scrapping the system of one country holding the EU presidency and driving the EU agenda for six months.

"The system prevents continuity in policy making and annoys governments outside the EU," said Mr Grant. "Furthermore, some of the smaller member states cannot run a presidency effectively. So in the councils that cover internal policies, the ministers should elect one of their peers as a two-year president."

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