2nd Jun 2020

Blair leaves top UK office amid calls for EU referendum

The UK conservative opposition is insisting that any new treaty for the EU be put to a referendum, arguing that it will contain most of the original draft constitution.

"Large parts of the EU Constitution are repackaged but back," William Hague, shadow foreign secretary in Britain's Conservative party, said over the weekend.

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  • Tony Blair - defending his policy on Europe both in London and Brussels (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

He maintained that Gordon Brown, officially confirmed as the new Labour leader on Sunday (24 June) and set to take over as a new UK prime minister this Wednesday, has "absolutely no democratic mandate to introduce these major changes without letting the British people have the final decision in a referendum."

Although there were reports of allegedly angry telephone conversations between Mr Blair and Mr Brown during the summit over the French president's demand to scrap a clause on competition from the list of the bloc's objectives, Mr Brown praised the deal and rejected the opposition calls.

"Like every other treaty that has been negotiated - Nice, Amsterdam, Maastricht - while many other people will call for a referendum, it seems to me that we have met our negotiating position," he told BBC.

"Thanks to the negotiating skill of Tony the four red lines have been achieved and I think people when they look at the small print will see that we did what we set out to do," Mr Brown added.

Mr Blair is expected to defend the outline of the new treaty before parliament today, highlighting that London secured language that the Charter of Fundamental Rights will have no effect on British law and that the country can opt out of EU police and judicial cooperation.

Last EU summit

Speaking to journalists in the early hours of Saturday morning after his last EU summit as prime minister, Mr Blair also went on to defend his European credentials.

Although he has not managed to introduce the euro in the UK as he promised before becoming prime minister in 1997 and kept Britain's other opt-outs from common EU rules, Mr Blair insisted that his country had moved from the margins to the centre of Europe's policy agenda during the ten-year Labour government.

"We have led the way on economic reform, on defence policy, on enlargement," he said, adding that the deal on the new Reform Treaty would also give the union a chance to "move on" and concentrate on practical projects highlighted by Britain's EU presidency in 2005, such as economy, energy, education and climate change.

While the summit was mainly focused on problematic negotiations on the new treaty and particularly on Poland's threats to veto the emerging deal, several leaders did mention Mr Blair's last appearance in their final press briefings.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy suggested the outgoing British prime minister was "someone who sought consensus in Europe," while Austrian chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer said, "I have always experienced him as maybe the most pro-European politician in the United Kingdom."

A new international role for Blair?

Meanwhile, a new international role for the outgoing British prime minister as a Middle East mediator is expected to be confirmed this week, according to several media reports.

The idea is reportedly strongly backed by US president George W. Bush, with some European leaders as well as the European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso also expressing their support at last week's summit, according to the International Herald Tribune.

The nomination is to be hammered out on Tuesday (26 June) in Jerusalem, at a meeting of diplomats representing the Quartet on Middle East peace process - the US, EU, UN and Russia - the Financial Times reported.

Jourova: Ease emergency powers - especially Hungary

The EU commission vice-president said that as member states relax lockdwon measures, it is time to roll back the state of emergencies that affect democracy and fundamental rights. Hungary said it might end extra powers in June.

Commission struggles with German court challenge

While the EU commission has suggested there could be EU probes becasue of the German consitutional court's decision, chancellor Angela Merkel argued to her party that a clash is avoidable.

Bucharest and Budapest in 'autonomy' region row

Budapest and Bucharest are engaged in a war of words over the heavily-Hungarian region of Szeklerland, part of Romania's Transylvania. But is a row over autonomy just cover to overshadow the corona virus crisis?

Hungary and Poland in spotlight for lockdown moves

The EU commission is double-checking emergency measures in every member state, as fundamental rights have been temporarily abrogated. But Hungary and Poland are problematic, yet no actions are planned.

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