Dick Erixon considers the current row over the EU budget between British prime minister Tony Blair and French president Jaques Chirac to be the most important European debate ever. He writes (my translation from Swedish):
“The EU’s most important struggle for power has begun. Ahead of, and after, the meeting to get a deal for the budget the French president Jaques Chirac is doing everything to isolate British prime minister Tony Blair, who’ll be EU president on July 1st. By focusing on the British rebate he is trying both to gather the French around a common enemy and breed mistrust between Blair and the Eastern European member states, who are otherwise more friendly towards America and free market economy.”
Whether it is the most important debate or not I’ll refrain from having an opinion about. However it is an important debate – one in which the outcome will weigh heavily on the future direction of the Union. In his briefing in the House of Commons (which can be viewed on C-Span) Tony Blair said he was willing to negotiate over the rebate if the Common Agricultural Policy is heavily reformed, and money aren’t transfered to the richer old member states but rather to the new ones. He also said that he did not want a Union that consisted only of the free market. He wants a social dimension but he feels it needs to deal with the concerns people have today rather than concerns they had some 50 years ago.
It seems to me that he has already drawn many of the right conclusions from the rejection of the constitution. While the free inner market, as I see it, is the biggest benefit of the EU there are certainly other areas where strong European co-operation is desirable. This could be matters related to international crime, environment issues and other things that are hard to deal with on a national level. Foreign policy would be such an area where it not for the very different positions taken by for instance Mr Blair and Mr Chirac.
All in all I hope the EU leaders take their time to get a deal that’s not just a working compromise that no one’s happy about, and that, in the long term, is bad for Europe. The agricultural policies needs to be reworked or even removed. The Lissabon process needs to get going, though admittedly most – almost all – of the responsibility for creating a healthy growing economy lies on the national level. Globalisation has to be accepted and welcomed, not feared.
This budget shouldn’t be rushed and a good deal is needed. It will be a strong signal to the people indicating what conclusions the EU leaders have drawn from the no-votes and in what direction the EU will head in the future.