Blair on Europe’s future: A Confederation – including Turkey?

A BlairiteOn November 28 Tony Blair gave a speech in Cardiff outlining his and Britain’s “clear course for Europe”, indicating the British stance on several important issues for the final round of institutional reform debates of the EU framework including the Convention preparing a European constitution in preparation for the actual execution of the Eastern European enlargement. You can find the speech here – I am only commenting on a few parts of it.

Blair may be a Europhile, but above all, he’s a Blairite, of course. Thus, it is no wonder that the “clear course for Europe” is not so clear in all respects, especially concerning the anticipated debates about the Common European Foreign and Security Policy. Admitting that Britain has “chosen to follow” rather than to lead in Europe for the last 50 years and expressing the clear determination to change her role and perception among her partners –

“First, we must end the nonsense of “this far and no further”. There are areas in which Europe should and will integrate more: in fighting crime and illegal immigration; to secure economic reform; in having a more effective defence and security policy. Britain should not be at the back of the file on such issues but at the front. On the Euro we should of course join if the economic conditions are right. A single currency with a single market for Europe makes economic sense.”

– he also leaves no doubt that more multilateral decision making in some areas will have to be offset by a straightforward implementation of the (somewhat elusive) subsidiarity principle and a clear constitutional statement that the Union has no will to become federal in any sense for some time –

“… we do need a proper Constitution for Europe, one which makes it clear that the driving ideology is indeed a union of nations not a superstate subsuming national sovereignty and national identity. This should be spelt out in simple language. A new Constitution for Europe can bring a new stability to the shape of Europe – not a finality which would prevent any future evolution, but a settlement to last a generation or more.”

– thus, only a slight change of attitude with respect to the above mentioned “this far and not further” position. A recognition of the dynamic nature of the process and some linguistic modernisation rather than a fundamental change in the underlying position.

Concerning the question of an appointed/elected Chairman of the European Council, he proposes a “team presidency” in which different councils would be led by different nations following a rotation scheme like the one currently used for the Council presidency. While the smaller nations will naturally be wary of a long-term Chairman of the European Council, the idea of splitting the presidency will likely appeal to many, as it seems to be a way to increase the number of national representatives without increasing the number of decision making bodies.

But I presume the biggest rows will concern the Common Foreign and Security Policy, especially after the recently floated Franco-German ideas about the Common European Defense. In the end, it’s all about Nato and the currently strained trans-Atlantic relationship. It’s a question of cultural ties as well as of history and of military ability. Very difficult to project any outcome apart from increased defense spending in Europe to somewhat close the apparent capability gap to the US. Realising that foreign policy is again much more related to military engagement, albeit of a very different kind, than it has been for European nations during the cold war years, Blair is favouring European cooperation, but ruling out a communised foreign policy – and he’s got some point there –

I favour the strengthening of European foreign policy, step by step, from the Balkans, to Europe’s “near abroad” and then beyond. In this area, however, the lead responsibility should remain with the Council of Foreign Ministers. Britain cannot agree to the communitisation of defence or foreign policy. It is not practical or right in principle. Foreign policy can only be built by gathering a consensus among the Member States who possess the resources necessary to conduct it – the diplomatic skills, the bulk of aid budgets, and of course the armed forces.”

It will be very hard to come to an agreement regarding extended multilateral decision making in this area. Even Germany, long standing propagator of multilateral decision making is pursuing a unilateral course of (verbal) non-participation regarding a possible US-led attack on Iraq.

In this speech, Blair only slightly touched one of the most difficult things to solve in the future – Turkey. He somewhat confusingly states with respect to Europe’s borders –

“Stretching from Lapland in the north to Malta in the south, from the coast of County Kerry in the West to the Black Sea, and ultimately – yes – to Turkey’s borders in the East, it will contain over 500 million people, a political and economic entity bigger than the USA and Japan put together.”

I haven’t counted if Europe contains over 500 million people without Turkey’s 80 million. But I like the way of getting around the subject by claiming that “Europe will extend to Turkey’s borders” without saying whether he means those with Greece or those with Iraq. That leaves a lot of room for discussion – all of Anatolia, actually.

My guess is, Europe will not be any simpler after this round of institutional changes. It will probably be a lot more complicated.