Tony Blair

Tony Blair in Europe

Life and Work of Tony Blair (1953-)

The Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union describes tony blair (1953-) in the following terms: [1] Elected prime minister in 1997, Tony Blair had previously transformed the Labour Party by shedding its socialist past and embracing Margaret Thatcher’s free-market reforms. Although sharing a leftist political label with the majority of his fellow EU premiers, his substantive policies on economic issues were little different from those of his Conservative predecessor, John Major.

A fluent French-speaker and culturally a Europhile, Blair started his tenure with a strong predilection for playing a positive role in Europe, tempering a wait-and-see stance on the euro with statements that his government in principle favoured participation.

He demonstrated his acceptance of the ‘social dimension’ of the EU by signing up to the Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty, coupling this with a pledge to block any legislation that undermined competitiveness – a pledge that would have to rely on persuasiveness, given the extent of qualified majority voting. He took the lead among European nations in the Kosovo conflict, albeit with a belligerence that did not endear Britain universally to its partners. He proposed the creation of a European rapid reaction force for crisis control. And he attempted to launch a ‘third way’ crusade to woo other European centre-left governments to economic liberalism.

These initiatives brought scant rewards. Although Chancellor Kohl’s dominating presence was soon gone and a weak Commission was forced to resign en bloc for maladministration, Blair’s expectations of exercising significant influence in Europe were thwarted by events. The ‘beef crisis’ he had inherited erupted again late in 1999 when France unexpectedly continued its health ban on British beef, contrary to Community law and the advice of the EU’s own scientific panel; and Britain found itself isolated when it blocked the introduction of a European withholding tax (which Germany particularly favoured) on the grounds that it would damage the City’s position as a financial centre.

The result of these disputes was to harden British public opinion against the euro and to blight Blair’s honeymoon with the EU. The ‘third way’ was shunned by France and quietly shelved. Blair reacted calmly and gave no ground, but he was having to come to terms with the reality that friendly gestures in Europeachieve little in the way of practical reciprocity and that the roots of Euroscepticism in Britain would not be easily eradicated, even by the most popular prime minister of the century.

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Notas y References

  1. Based on the book “A Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union from Aachen to Zollverein”, by Rodney Leach (Profile Books; London)

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