22nd Mar 2019

Blair hints at reviving EU constitution

British prime minister Tony Blair said the EU needs to revive talks about the constitution to establish more effective rules of governance, in a major speech on Europe at Oxford University on Thursday (2 February).

"I accept we will need to return to the issues around the European constitution. A European Union of 25 cannot function properly with today's rules of governance," said Mr Blair.

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"Having spent six months as EU president, I am a good witness to that," he added.

But he warned that this debate should not become the focus of the union's activities, noting "If we do so, we will damage the very vision the constitution was supposed to embody."

Instead, he pointed out "Now is the time of the practical people," suggesting that EU leaders should concentrate on the economic reform, security, energy, defence and foreign policy.

"Address this agenda, work on the practical but radical steps to achieve it and the context in which to discuss Europe's rules would be framed."

"But don't start with the rules. Start with the reasons they are needed," he pointed out.

Mr Blair's ideas came in his first big speech on the European affairs and Britain's EU membership since the end of UK's six-month presidency of the union in December.

The British leadership was widely criticised for its scant achievement in terms of EU economic reform, highlighted by Mr Blair as the key point on his European agenda, when he took up the job in July.

London was also scorned for the way it had tackled debate on the EU's long-term budget, although it finally managed to strike a deal among the bloc's leaders in December.

On the EU constitution, Mr Blair decided shortly after the treaty's popular rejection in France and the Netherlands to put plans for a referendum in the UK on ice until Paris and the Hague signal they see a chance for adopting the document in their country.

EU leaders later agreed that the ratification process should be stopped until mid-2006 while Europe reflects on where to head next after the constitutional crisis.

But the UK prime minister argues that the difficult period for the EU - also caused by social and economic tensions across the continent - has actually produced a momentum which makes it the best ever time "to be optimistic in Europe or enthusiastic about Britain's part in it."

"The British anxiety is a shared one with the people of Europe; the reform agenda an agreed one with the mainstream of European governments," he said.

"Europe has emerged from its darkened room. It has a new generation of leaders. A new consensus is forming. Yes, there is still a debate to be had, but the argument in favour of an open Europe is winning."

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