Mr Blair's EUphoria
Published in: Daily Mail
Not since the Greek god Zeus turned himself into a swan in order to seduce the unsuspecting Leda has there been such an astounding makeover.
This week, the Prime Minister will appeal to European opinion over the heads of 'Old Europe' to support his plan to use Britain's six-month presidency of the EU, which begins next week, to reform its sclerotic institutions. This follows last week's astonishing scenes where the row with France's President Chirac over his attempt to bounce Britain into scrapping its rebate produced what has been described as the worst crisis in the EU's history.
Backed by the Netherlands, Sweden and other small nations, the Prime Minister refused to make concessions on the rebate unless this was linked to reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. Now, in a petulant display of bullying, France is threatening to sabotage both Britain's EU presidency and its hosting of next month's G8 summit. So it's war.
You have to pinch yourself to realise that this crisis has been precipitated by Tony Blair who, with pennants streaming, has ridden out at the head of this epic battle against Old Europe. This is the Tony Blair who, as the true European believer, was an evangelist for the euro, ditched dozens of British vetoes in the treaties of Amsterdam and Nice and only a few short weeks ago was proclaiming the merits of the very EU constitution the demise of which he is now busy exploiting.
Overnight, it seems, the greatest political cross-dresser of all time has once again stolen his opponents' clothes and reinvented himself. Gone is the lame duck Prime Minister stumbling from one debacle to another. Suddenly he has turned into Mrs Thatcher, Henry V and the Duke of Wellington rolled into one, to fight to the death the ancient enemy of France and pose as leader of a dynamic New Europe to spread the faith of the free market and rescue the people from an oppressive and antedeluvian bureaucracy.
Now this fervent pro-European has got Eurosceptics purring in approval. Whatever one thinks about Mr Blair's principles, even his most implacable enemies would surely have to agree that he is a politician of rare genius as well as of uncommon luck.
It was luck that delivered him the 'no' votes by France and the Netherlands, thus removing the danger of a British referendum delivering an even louder 'no'. It was a stroke of genius, however, instantly to recognise the opportunity this gave him to reinvent himself as the slayer of the lumbering EU dragon.
So what are we to make of this dramatic change of direction? It is hardly the first time, after all, that Mr Blair has performed a European volte face. When he first became an MP in the 1980s he was anti-Europe - as were the majority in the Labour party.
It was only later on, when Labour sought to shed its extremist image and looked around for a new set of radical clothes - which were tailor-made for it by Jacques Delors, who cast the EU as the defender of social justice against the ostensible ravages of Thatcherism - that Mr Blair and his party became as stridently in favour of the EU as they had once been against.
So might Mr Blair once again be changing his views to suit changing political circumstances?
It would be a very great mistake to imagine that Mr Blair has suddenly turned into a Eurosceptic. He remains as fervent a believer in the European project as he ever was. But one has to understand what that project means to him, and why the opportunity that has now presented itself to him is so important.
He has always believed that Britain should be at the very heart of Europe so that it might lead it and shape it in its own image and interests. The fact that such a proposed coup against the Franco-German axis that has always run Europe betrayed extraordinary hubris and self-delusion never deterred him. That is why, despite being regularly outmanoeuvred by France in negotiation after negotiation, he kept coming back like a punch-drunk boxer for yet more punishment.
Now, however, the French and Dutch referendums have presented him with a golden opportunity for a palace revolution, to assemble a rival power base to knock France and Germany off their European perch - and replace the sclerotic EU economy with a British-style market model, on the basis that by their 'no' votes the peoples of Europe have sent a clear message that the old order has to change.
But like so much about Mr Blair, this thinking betrays a fundamental muddle and distortion. There were many different reasons for the 'no' votes, but two of the most powerful run directly opposite to what Mr Blair believes. French voters did not vote against sclerotic EU economics. On the contrary, inefficient French farmers love the subsidy provided by the CAP. What they objected to was the very market economics which they associate with Britain, which they falsely blame for their own economic woes.
What these voters also objected to, particularly in the Netherlands, was the political aspect of the EU which is destroying national identity and self-government by its multicultural, homogenising, one-size-fits-all approach. In other words, they were asserting the right of a nation state to govern itself in accordance with the views of its own people- the process known as democracy.
But now look at what Mr Blair is proposing in his palace revolution. He wants to replace the CAP by the market -but doesn't utter a word about taking back power over our own laws. Instead, he has talked about 'getting round' the no votes against the constitution, from which one might infer he will use the EU presidency to work out ways to impose many of its provisions by stealth - no doubt with the assistance of the black arts deployed by EU commissioner Peter Mandelson.
On Thursday, he will reportedly reassert his European credentials by emphasising that he believes in a strong 'social model' for Europe, which is why he signed Britain up to the social chapter of the Maastricht treaty and introduced the national minimum wage.
In other words, far from the Eurosceptic position that the EU should simply become a trading alliance of self-governing European states and junk the political union at the core of the project, Mr Blair remains a true believer in creating a pan-European government that tells member states what to do. He simply wants to control it so that he tells them what to do.
In the fight to defend democracy from supra-national institutions that undermine national parliaments, Mr Blair is still firmly on the wrong side. He talks about reconnecting with the public who, he says, want to modernise the EU. But the institution whose raison d'etre is to obliterate the democratic expression of the different peoples of Europe cannot reconnect with them. It can only alienate them.
Mr Blair is a man of many missions. His new mission, it seems, is to save Europe from itself. Now he faces a torrid six months fighting with the implacably hostile France and Germany - but on a battleground that is built on quicksand.