What about building a special relationship with Europe?

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The Independent Online

Romano Prodi's direct but thoughtful speech tonight will be like a red rag to the Eurosceptic bull. Tony Blair will be just as irritated by the president of the European Commission, and not just because the Prime Minister's strategy of fighting the euro-referendum by stealth has been upset. But it is about time the snorters of anti-European prejudice were stirred into a more direct confrontation, now that the conversion to the euro has gone so well.

It is about time that the truths of Britain's place in the world were set out publicly by a European leader, instead of being bathed in the Blairite balm of "not having to choose between Europe and America, because both relationships reinforce each other". So they do, up to a point – a point located with unsentimental clarity by Mr Prodi.

If Britain wants "extra leverage in the world", how much more likely is this to be achieved as an equal partner in Europe than as the back wheel of George Bush's penny-farthing?

Mr Prodi's tone is one of exasperated candour, admiring the British yet wondering "what makes this great nation happy to be a junior partner in a transatlantic relationship?"

This question is directed not only at the anti-European tendency, but at our supposedly pro-European Prime Minister. When Mr Prodi speaks of "this country" being "so confident when dealing with a vastly more powerful nation over 3,000 miles away", and yet seeming to "fear its own shadow" in Europe, it is clear to whom he refers. Likewise when he disparages the Chancellor's five economic tests, saying: "The real test the UK must pass is a test of its own political will and courage."

Mr Blair will not like these home truths being spelled out in plain English. But the referendum will not be won unless they are confronted directly. As Mr Prodi says, Britons know "in their hearts" that they have a part to play in shaping the future of their continent, "a role Britain cannot abdicate". If Mr Blair had the courage of Mr Prodi's convictions, there would be less danger of that.

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