Prescott could take EU role after election

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Indy Politics

John prescott could take on a new role as the guardian of Britain's interests in the European Union under plans being drawn up to reassert the power of the 15 member states over the Brussels-based European Commission.

John prescott could take on a new role as the guardian of Britain's interests in the European Union under plans being drawn up to reassert the power of the 15 member states over the Brussels-based European Commission.

Mr Prescott is expected to give up running his giant Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) after the general election if Labour wins a second term. He would remain Deputy Prime Minister and is likely to take over an expanded Cabinet Office, now headed by Mo Mowlam, who is leaving Parliament at the election.

It is believed that Tony Blair wants Mr Prescott to act as his cabinet "enforcer" and for the Cabinet Office to work more closely with Downing Street - in effect becoming a "Prime Minister's department". As Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Prescott would enjoy more clout with other Whitehall departments than Ms Mowlam and her two predecessors, Jack Cunningham and David Clark.

Mr Prescott, 62, could be succeed at the DETR by either Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, or Peter Mandelson, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, is the front-runner to move to the Home Office.

Mr Prescott is a former leader of the Labour delegation to the European Parliament. His possible new role has emerged in talks on how to define the respective roles of national governments and the EU. There is strong support in other countries, led by Germany, for the creation of a committee composed of the deputy prime minister from each member state to boost the accountability of the EU.

The plan may prove more popular on the Continent than Mr Blair's proposal last month for the European Parliament to have a second chamber made up of MPs from national parliaments. This has run into strong criticism from Euro MPs, who say it would create an unnecessary tier of bureaucracy.

Plans for a "deputy premiers' group" were discussed last weekend at a meeting of senior European MPs in Vienna. Clive Soley, chairman of the parliamentary Labour Party, who represented Labour, is enthusiastic about the idea and will recommend it to Mr Blair. Mr Soley said there was opposition at the meeting to the proposal for a second chamber in the European Parliament because it would "create another institution". He said: "A group of deputy prime ministers meeting regularly would be an accountable and effective voice at EU level and ensure a proper role for the nation state in EU affairs."

But the Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who favours a second chamber, has doubts about the merits of the proposed group, believing it would limit the ability of foreign ministers to keep a close eye on EU affairs.

A decision on the plan will be taken after Mr Blair and other leaders agree a new governing treaty for the EU at a summit in Nice next month. Tonight Mr Blair will discuss the summit over a Downing Street supper with Gerhard Schröder, the German Chancellor, who wants Britain to give up its veto over taxation policy - a move opposed by Mr Blair.

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