NEWS

EU crisis shows need for leadership

While the EU struggles to come to terms with its future size and shape, the rejection of the European Constitution by voters in the Netherlands and France last year shows that the internal structure of the Union is also in need of some urgent attention. «We all have to recognize that the European Union is in crisis,» said Lord Wallace. «The constitutional treaty actually represented the last attempt to build the old original edifice of a Europe that fitted the Franco-German model. It didn’t work, we need a different model.» The Liberal Democrat peer suggests that newer member states may be able to provide inspiration for this new European model. «We desperately need new leadership from a broader range of countries. It’s no use having European integration defined by the Belgian prime minister as it so often is. I wish we could hear more often from the Hungarian or Czech prime ministers,» he said. Last week, European Commission Vice President Gunter Verheugen blasted the slow pace of efforts to simplify EU legislation and reduce the costs of compliance for businesses. He also attacked EU bureaucrats, saying that commissioners were engaged in a «constant power struggle» with them. «There’s a lot of change of the European Union that needs to be pushed through but we lack the constructive political leadership to carry that through,» Lord Wallace said. He believes the EU has an excellent opportunity to reform itself and come up with a relevant and viable alternative to the United States. «Attitudes to Europe have become more positive over the last year and the reason for that is the disillusionment with the United States,» Lord Wallace said. Changes in leadership in the EU’s core powers could also have an impact on shaping the future of the Union. There are new governments in Italy and Germany and the leaders of France and Britain are set to change over the next few years. «I think the change in France is the most desperately needed. President Chirac is a huge block to intelligent discussion about the reform of the European Union,» said Lord Wallace. «The new Italian government is far more effective than its predecessor in terms of having something of a foreign policy. We’re still learning how far the German government is able to have a more effective foreign policy,» he said. «In Britain we’re probably about to have a change of prime minister but I suspect not a change of policy.» Britain in Europe The role that will be played by the British government in the development of the EU will be vital to where the Union will stand in comparison to the US in terms of foreign policy and how robust its internal structure will be. Lord Wallace believes there was a window of opportunity early in Tony Blair’s premiership to really put Britain «at the heart of Europe» as the Labor leader had promised when he took over at 10 Downing Street in 1997. «It was a huge missed opportunity in 1998-2000. There ought to have been a close Franco-British partnership and it was lost because the French government could not accept Britain as a viable or an equal partner,» he said. «President Chirac must accept part of the blame. The Blair-Chirac relationship has been appalling. Chirac reacted as if Blair was the young pretender for the leadership of Europe and it’s been an entirely negative factor,» added Lord Wallace, who believes that the allure of the special relationship with the US also lured Blair’s attention to the other side of the Atlantic. «Blair fell in love with Washington. Washington has an enormous glamour for British prime ministers,» he said. «The extent to which the British media is dominated by Anglo-American companies that push for that – that’s pulled him away from Europe.» Although Tony Blair’s apparent successor, Chancellor Gordon Brown, does not seem to have the same taste for the transatlantic relationship, Lord Wallace doubts whether the Scotsman has much of an appetite for EU affairs either. «Brown is very bored of Europe. He doesn’t like dealing with the other finance ministers, he’s happy dealing in G8, world things like that,» he said.