Amsterdam Summit: Blair steers steady course over treaty

Sarah Helm reports on a late night for leaders

Tony Blair was negotiating deep into last night with European partners, working to finalise the Amsterdam Treaty, which the leaders hope will settle differences over new power-sharing.

As the talks entered their end-game, Mr Blair, attending his first formal European summit, was put to serious test as a player in the European version of multi-dimensional chess.

The outcome of last night's talks will indicate whether Mr Blair is justified in arguing that his new co-operative approach with Europe has strengthened his negotiating hand

Along with every other leader, Mr Blair was reluctant to cede powers in several areas, but was certain to have to trade off slices of British sovereignty during the course of the night.

As the evening wore on, the top priority for Britain was to block attempts by other member states, led by France and Germany, to commit the union to a common European defence in the new treaty.

Britain fears that giving the European Union powers over defence would eventually turn the union into a military, as well as a political alliance, thereby undermining the role of Nato.

Mr Blair was therefore determined last night to remove language from the draft treaty text which suggests that the Western European Union (WEU), Europe's de facto defence arm, should become gradually integrated in the EU.

However, at the eleventh hour, the Netherlands, which holds the EU presidency, raised the stakes by suggesting a protocol be attached to the new treaty detailing the three phases by which the WEU would be incorporated into EU structures.

In its fight against new defence power-sharing, Britain was counting on support from Denmark and four neutral countries - Ireland, Austria, Sweden and Finland. However, it seemed unlikely that Mr Blair would be able to neutralise the Franco-German initiative, and was likely to be forced to accept a compromise.

Britain had already secured its prime Amsterdam objective, maintaining rights over frontier controls, before last night's negotiations began.

As a price for this concession the Government ceded the right of other states to develop a joint immigration and asylum policy.

Last night Mr Blair was still attempting to limit related moves to extend the powers of the European Court to allow judges to oversee decisions on police co-operation and crime fighting. Britain was also hoping to stop moves by other member states to pool sovereignty in civil judicial policy.

British negotiators said last night they expected to "make some progress" on the European Court issue. However, other states remained determined to give a boost to the courts' role and to co-operate more widely in the judicial field.

Mr Blair's hope of securing a firm commitment from partners to curb the practice of fish-quota hopping appeared to be in some doubt, due to objections from Spain.

The highly sensitive move to introduce "flexible decision-making" into EU procedures - whereby some countries can move ahead at a faster pace than others - was another area where Mr Blair was likely to be forced to consider a trade off.

Britain has made clear that it wants the right to veto any move by other groups of countries to pool powers as a one-off group. However, it seemed unlikely that Mr Blair would be able to win partners round.

The best he could hope for was to secure agreement that the "flexibility" procedure would not be applied to certain core EU policy areas, such as the single market.

The Prime Minister, who has accepted some extension of qualified majority voting, was still hoping to reduce the list of eleven areas to which other states want the system applied.

Hammering out their consensus, the leaders were acutely aware that their treaty must be far-reaching enough to allow the EU to accommodate new members.

Failure to agree sufficient reforms of Europe's institutions and decision- making process could force member states to launch further treaty-revision.

However, the length of the final negotiations indicated just how far apart many countries were on core issues relating to re-shaping the union.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Manager required for a busy company in...

Recruitment Genius: Controller / Mobile Inspector

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This leading security company requires a prof...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A sales person is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy