June 23, 2005
Media in Germany warmed by Blair's plea to the people
From Roger Boyes in Berlin and Anthony Browne in Brussels
TONY BLAIR appealed over the head of Gerhard Schröder to the German people yesterday, declaring a passion for Europe and a readiness to compromise on the British rebate in return for radical reform.
The Prime Minister’s article yesterday in the masscirculation newspaper Bild was a response to the German Chancellor, who on Monday attacked politicians determined to convert the EU into a free-trade association.
Mr Blair was plainly the target. “Whoever wants to destroy the European social model out of national egotism is committing a sin against future generations,” the German leader said.
Mr Blair took up the challenge yesterday — and seems to be winning over the German media. “Britain is in favour of a social Europe, but it must be a social Europe that is suited to today’s world,” he said. “The EU is much more than a free-trade union.”
The propaganda offensive was reinforced by Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, who was in Berlin yesterday to discuss how Germany could learn from Britain on integrating ethnic communities.
An editorial in Bild backed Mr Blair, saying: “Tony Blair is right when he declares war on the disease of EU subsidies.”
The paper bolstered the British argument by printing a long list of apparently absurd subsidies, including help for a Finnish horse sauna. The list shows the French to be the greatest beneficiaries of EU payouts.
The rest of the German press expressed varying degrees of admiration for Mr Blair — and contempt for Herr Schröder. “Gone are the days in which German European policy meant mediation,” Die Welt said. “If we were still living in this time the Chancellor would have to admit that London’s interest in freeing itself from the burdens of the Common Agriculture Policy is not just legitimate but necessary.”
Lothar Späth, a Christian Democrat politician who has the ear of Angela Merkel, Herr Schröder’s rival, also appealed for Germany to abandon the farming bureaucracy that he said was holding back Europe.
“The 2002 CAP compromise was nothing more than an attempt by the then 15 member states to safeguard the farm subsidies at current levels before the 10 new members could make any claim,” he said. “Whoever makes foolish, contradictory compromises should not be surprised when they do not last long.”
Mr Blair also received support on farm subsidies from José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission. Senhor Barroso said that he backed Mr Blair’s plan to reach a budget deal for 2007 to 2013 by agreeing to review the entire EU budget, including the CAP, in 2008.
President Chirac of France ruled out last week any cuts in farm spending, and said that EU leaders had agreed unanimously in 2002 to fix it at the current level until 2013.
Senhor Barroso agreed that it was wrong to try to reform the entire EU budget “here and now”, and said that the 2002 agreement had to be stuck with while a deal is reached. But he backed the idea of a review in 2008 which would look at the entire structure of EU funding, including farm subsidies.
“What we can do is ask all to make a compromise, a compromise on CAP, a compromise on the British rebate. We don’t have to explicitly link them, but we have to get out of rigid positions,” he said. “If our British friends think they are going to get everything they want, they are mistaken. If our French friends, too, think they are going to have everything they want, it’s also a mistake.”
Although the 2002 deal to fix farm spending until 2013 was agreed unanimously, he said that did not mean that countries could not change it. “The only way to change an agreement made unanimously is to have a unanimous decision. At this moment, that is not yet sure,” he said.
However, Senhor Barroso raised questions for the first time about another issue championed by Britain: Turkey’s EU membership.
Breaking with previous upbeat assessments of Turkey’s membership prospects, Senhor Barroso said that the referendums in France and the Netherlands showed the depth of popular opposition to the poor Muslim country joining the Union.
“We should discuss seriously the signals sent by the electors regarding Turkey,” he said. “We should have a frank discussion on the matter. It would be a complete mistake not to look at this issue seriously.”
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German media warmed by Blair's plea to the people
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