Leading article: Blair the lobbyist?

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ENFIN, un chef de gouvernment anglais qui parle le francais! Mais rappellez-vous, nos chers francais, ce que le petit caporal nous a appelles une nation de commercants. Ce matin nous nous demandons: ce M Blair, est- il vraiment notre premier ministre ou - deguise - un espece de negociant, un agent d'influence etrangere, le delegue d'une societe privee, l'enterprise internationale geree par Rupert Murdoch.

Yet it's not the French who need to beware but the Italians. The Euro- lines buzz with reports that the British prime minister has been lobbying Romano Prodi on behalf of Murdoch Enterprises Inc. Could it be that Mr Blair is moonlighting as a lobbyist? There will be those, especially in France, who will say: this is what British membership of the European Union amounts to. It confirms that Charles de Gaulle was right all along and all we are is a kind of Trojan Horse for American interests.

Downing Street denies there is anything in the story that Mr Blair wooed Mr Prodi. Media ownership is a touchy subject in modern Italian politics and there can be few who think substituting Murdoch for Berlusconi would constitute an increase in pluralism. The Prodi government has enough on its hands, what with getting Italy fit for EMU, without having to counter allegations that it is permitting foreign meddling.

As for Mr Blair, let us hope that, if Murdoch asked him to intervene, he had the good sense to say no. To sit on his hands while Rupert Murdoch pursues a predatory pricing policy in newspaper markets in this country is one thing. But for the prime minister of the United Kingdom to tout on Murdoch's behalf abroad would be of a shockingly different order of magnitude.

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