Thursday, 29 November 2012

Blairite Europe

Yesterday former British PM Tony Blair made his big speech on Britain and the EU at the Business for New Europe event. You can read the speech in full here. So after writing at length about Labour and the EU on Monday, is there anything in the Blairite vision of the EU?


On the Eurocrisis, I partly agree with him.

"...the flagship policy of Europe is listing dangerously. As I have said before, to save it, I believe, requires a kind of ‘Grand Bargain’ approach rather than incremental steps, in which Germany agrees, effectively, to some form of mutualisation of debt; the debtor countries carry out profound structural reform; and the ECB stands fully behind the bargain. There are some signs this may happen. But even if it does, Europe will suffer for some time to come."

There have been calls for some form of debt mutualisation for a while now (and some Parliamentary amendments pushing for it), and it's hard to see how the current bailouts - which in Greece's case have led to the country's debt ballooning to 190% GDP rather than falling - actually help solve the fundamental problems of the Eurozone rather than  helping the balance sheets of creditors.


Blair pushed for a change in the narrative away from peace towards power:

"...the truth is the rationale for Europe today is stronger not weaker than it was back 66 years ago when the project began. But it is different. Then the rationale was peace. Today it is power. Then it was about a continent ravaged by war in which Germany had been the aggressor and Britain the victor. Today it is about a world in which global geo-politics is undergoing its biggest change for centuries. Power is shifting West to East. China has emerged, with its economy opening up, one which will grow eventually to be the world’s largest. Its population is three times that of the whole of the EU. India has over a billion people. Brazil is two times the size of the largest European country, Indonesia three times and there are a host of countries including Russia, Turkey, Mexico, Vietnam, the Philippines and Egypt larger today than any single EU nation.

What is more, as technology and capital become globally mobile, in time there will be a re-alignment of GDP and population i.e. the larger your population, the bigger your economy. The USA remains extraordinarily strong, its military easily the largest and best equipped but the time when it has been the world’s only superpower, is passing."

The speech was clearly intended as an argument for Britain's membership of the EU, and as an attack on Euroscepticism in the UK, so the speech doesn't offer much in terms of the direction that Britain should go within the EU. He restated the case for membership based on economic advantage and global power. In a sense I agree - on Monday I was arguing that collective European decision-making should give the people and the Member States more opportunity to decide their economic and social future - but Blair's vision is almost completely dominated by the terms of international power relations.

It's a vision with some truth to it, but little appeal. Most Britons aren't as concerned with Britain's global position as Blair is - indeed, Blair's premiership isn't exactly an encouragement for British global involvement. The message, without much on sharing the economic and social power democratically among citizens, and the messenger, who comes across as being more concerned with the power of great office-holders than anything else, does not make a convincing narrative and is not really one that the left should or could adopt.


If it doesn't quite live up to being a bankable European narrative, it is good to have a public figure talk publicly about the advantages of EU membership, although many pro-Europeans on the left, myself included, will not enthusiastically welcome a Blairite vision of Europe. When it comes to the EU, there needs to be a place for political families of the right, left and centre. The pro-European voices from these families will inevitably conflict, but the Eurosceptic voices from the same families will have their own arguments and will need to be engaged with on their own terms. Yesterday Blair couched his argument in terms of the national interest, and the basic pro-European argument may need to be made there, but it's limited in providing a narrative that goes beyond the balance sheet approach.

Tony Blair for president?

There's been some speculation about whether Blair still wants to get a position in the EU, and he launched a Twitter account yesterday dedicated to his views and work on Europe. (There was also an unconnected website (mockingly) advocating him for the European Council presidency). I wasn't a fan of the idea the first time 'round...


  1. Does the subject has to do with your education or perhaps is it mostly about your leisure and free time?

  2. A bit of both - I suppose my interest in it also drove my choice of education route, but my education is more law-focused.