30th Mar 2017

No referendum needed on revised EU treaty, says Blair

  • Tony Blair and Angela Merkel will discuss the issue next week in Berlin (Photo: European Community, 2006)

UK prime minister Tony Blair has said he will come to an EU summit in June ready to endorse a fast-track adoption of the basic institutional changes foreseen by the bloc's disputed constitution - something that will not require a referendum in Britain.

"For us, we are going to get attacked whatever we do, but Europe needs to do it to move forward," Mr Blair said in an interview with European newspapers on Thursday (19 April).

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"These issues aren't going to go away. It's better to resolve them sooner rather than later," he added, according to Financial Times.

German chancellor Angela Merkel is planning at the 20-21 June summit to present a roadmap on solving the EU's treaty impasse following the constitution's rejection by French and Dutch voters in 2005.

The UK is one of nine countries that has not ratified the constitution and was originally planning to hold a popular vote on it.

But Mr Blair - due to step down as the British prime minister after the June summit and likely to be succeeded by the current finance minister Gordon Brown - says that a limited new treaty would not have to be ratified by referendum.

The mini-version of the almost 500-page document could include new rules on member states' voting rights and the number of commissioners, a new EU president and foreign minister, without the legal characteristics of the constitution, such as hymn and flag.

"If it's not a constitutional treaty, so that it alters the basic relationship between Europe and the member states, then there isn't the same case for a referendum," said Mr Blair, adding that he is aware of the criticism this move will spark by media and opposition in his country.

"The truth is that the Conservative party will probably argue for a referendum if you move a comma in an existing treaty," he added, complaining that crafting a policy on Europe is about choosing between "isolation" in Brussels or "treason" in London.

He argues that many perceptions on Europe have changed in Britain during ten years of Labour government and the country is no longer isolated in the 27-member union. "I mean, when was the last time we went into a European summit with everyone saying Britain is on its own?" he asked.

Mr Blair is planning to discuss the German presidency's roadmap next week with Ms Merkel in Berlin.

Britain is not the only opponent of the EU constitution. The Netherlands has said it cannot pass the same text that Dutch people have rejected, while Prague is calling for a slimmer and simpler charter and Poland is insisting on a whole new voting system.

On the other hand, the 18 countries that have largely ratified the treaty are against fundamental changes to its content, arguing that its current version received the green light from all member states when it was agreed in 2004.

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