Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

It was a busy week for Commissioner Reding who is responsible for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship. For many months she has been working on draft legislation which would see a mandatory quota of 40%  women who sit on Europe’s largest corporate company boards.

However, as many regular visitors to my blog may know it turned out to be a difficult week for Ms Reding. The 26 Commissioners were divided on some of the detail presented within the draft legislation, but rather than throw out the plan, as some media reported, the Commission’s President, Jose Manuel Barroso, allowed Commissioner Reding to resubmit her draft legislation in November.

It was reported that under new plans, the 40% figure would be an “objective for companies to meet rather than a legally binding obligation”. We will find out the full detail by mid-November.

I spent a lot of time discussing this issue last week on various radio and TV programmes which you can watch or listen to here. But Commissioner Reding summed it up well when she said: “We’ve been fighting now for 100 years. One or two weeks now doesn’t make a difference.”

You can also read more about the next stages of the legislation here.

Last week, a powerful article appeared in the European political newspaper, New Europe. It concerned the level of violence against women in Europe and the direction the work of the European Union, the Commission and the Council of Europe in this area. Despite efforts of agencies, NGOs and charities across Europe one in five women in Europe still suffers either physical or psychological violence, according to the Council of Europe.

Essentially there is still a lot of work that must be done, the article asserted.

It was written by Nicolas Beger, Director, Amnesty International European institutions office who said: “These women are variously raped, mutilated, harassed, trafficked, beaten, enslaved or killed. The European Union has recognised its duty to prevent this human rights violation but, as matters stand, is sorely lacking vision and direction.”

You can read his piece, in full, here.

Saturday’s Guardian explored the importance of women’s votes in deciding the US Presidential election in a lengthy special report.

As the race enters its final stages the lead among female voters for the Democrats is narrowing. Indeed the Guardian warned “The Democrats’ huge lead among female voters is crumbling.”

It’s interesting that the female vote is so powerful particularly in the swing state, Florida, and especially as their concern is the same as their male counterparts, i.e. it’s the economy, employment and other non-gender specific concerns rather than ‘women’s issues’ which will be their deciding factor.

You can read the special report in full here.

Marginalised Britain will one day count the cost of the lost Euro opportunity

Labour Party

First things first, amongst all those many others may I wish Prince Philip a speedy recovery. He has been a tower of strength over the last 60 years and has made a contribution beyond compare to the Queen herself and the monarchy as an institution.

Nevertheless, the Diamond Jubilee celebrations can only distance the rest of the world to a limited extent. While we have been enjoying our good fortune, the Eurozone leaders have been slowly forming a reaction to the sovereign debt crisis, specifically the banking crisis in Spain.

According to the Guardian today, the recently elected French socialist government represented in this instance by Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici and the European Commission led by President Jose Manuel Barroso have just given strong backing for a new Eurozone “banking union”. Crucially, the plan could see vast national debt and banking liabilities pooled and then backed by the financial strength of Germany in return for Eurozone governments surrendering sovereignty over their budgets and fiscal policies to a central Eurozone authority.

This is heady stuff indeed, and good news for the European single currency. Finding a way through the crisis in the Eurozone countries is also good news for the UK. Probably the only thing on which I agree with David Cameron is that it is in Britain’s interests to have a stable Euro.

However, it is also very bad news for Britain. Yet again we are outside major European developments. This may not be harmful in the short-term, but will be damaging for the UK in the longer term. 

The European Council president, the President of the European Commission, the President of the European Central Bank and the head of the Eurogroup of 17 finance ministers have apparently been charged with drafting the proposals for a deeper Eurozone fiscal union, to be presented to an EU summit at the end of the month.

The European Commission and France are piling pressure on Germany to line up behind the proposal. Angela Merkel would need to take it to the German parliament for agreement.

The international financier George Soros is on record as saying: “The likelihood is that the euro will survive because a breakup would be devastating not only for the periphery but also forGermany.Germanyis likely to do what is necessary to preserve the Euro…”

Soros continued with these prophetic words, “”That would result in a Eurozone dominated by Germany in which the divergence between the creditor and debtor countries would continue to widen and the periphery would turn into permanently depressed areas in need of constant transfer of payments.”

Everything appears to be coming together -France and the European Commission working together, plus tentative but seemingly real acceptance of their proposals by the European Council, the European Central Bank and the Eurozone countries. Although it’s by no means all set to go, it does look as if the 17 Eurozone countries are coming closer together and accepting the need for a central Eurozone authority look at budgets and fiscal policies.

Britain as ever is not part of what promises to be the most important European project since the formation of the Common Market. Unfortunately 50 years or so later, we still don’t get it. Europe is where the future lies. If Britain has any hope of being more than a bit player outside our own shores, we have to be a leader in the European Union. Today that means being up there with France and Germany in the Euro. Very unfortunately we did not join, and this blog post explains just how serious a missed opportunity this will turn out to be.

To add salt to the wounds, if Britain had joined the Euro, there is little doubt we would have been at the top table with France and Germany. Yes, we would have suffered from the current crisis in the Eurozone countries, but thanks to dogmatic Tory Chancellor George Osborne and Prime Minister Cameron we are suffering a double dip recession anyway, even outside the single currency. The Euro was always a political as well as an economic project and the UK has comprehensively failed to grasp the political opportunity.

Interview with Iain Dale on LBC about the Financial Transaction Tax

Labour Party

Last night I was on Iain Dale’s show on LBC.  It was an interesting discussion on the Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) that was mentioned by Jose Manuel Barroso (President of the Commission) yesterday during his state of the union address to the European Parliament.  I posted some extracts of that speech yesterday and you can read them by following the link here.  Below is the exert from Iain Dale’s show where we discuss the FTT and, as he mentions, find an unusual level of agreement.

More power to the European Commission

Labour Party

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso gave his “State of the Union” address to the European Parliament today. Below are key extracts. You may be interested in the Financial Transaction Tax and Mr Barroso’s plans for greater economic integration in the eurozone.


Greece is, and will remain, a member of the euro area. Greece must implement its commitments in full and on time. In turn, the other euro area members have pledged to support Greece and each other. As stated at the euro area Summit on 21 July: “We are determined to continue to provide support to countries under programmes until they have regained market access, provided they successfully implement those programmes.”

That is why I (Barroso) created the Task Force forGreece.

We have just launched an action plan based on two major pillars:

  • Around 100 viable and high-quality projects, investing in all Greek regions, to make the best use of Greece’s remaining allocation of the structural funds.
  • And a major drive to reduce bureaucratic procedures for European co-funded projects.

€ 15 billion remain to be spent in Greece from the structural funds. This will support the Greek economy with an urgent programme of technical assistance to the Greek administration.

A programme of € 500 million Euros to guarantee European Investment Bank loans to Greek SMEs is already under way.

The Commission is also considering a wider guarantee mechanism to help banks lend again to the real economy.

All of this represents a huge support toGreece’s fight back and Greece will have to deliver concrete results. It must break with counter productive practices and resist vested interests.

But we have to be clear about this. This is not a sprint, but a marathon.

Full economic union in the eurozone

The task of building a Union of stability and responsibility is not only about Greece.

The economic outlook that we face is very difficult. We are confronted with the negative effects of an ongoing global re-assessment of risks. It is therefore our responsibility to rebuild confidence and trust in the euro and ourUnion as a whole.

And we can do this by showing that we are able to take all the decisions needed to run a common currency and an integrated economy in a competitive, inclusive and resource-efficient way. For this we need to act in the short, in the medium and the long term.

The first step is to quickly fix the way we respond to the sovereign debt crisis.

This will require stronger mechanisms for crisis resolution. We need credible firepower and effective firewalls for the euro.

We have to build on the EFSF and the upcoming European Stability Mechanism.

The EFSF must immediately be made both stronger and more flexible. This is what the Commission proposed already in January. This is what Heads of State and Government of the euro area agreed upon on 21 July. Only then, when you ratify this, will the EFSF be able to:

  • – deploy precautionary intervention;
  • – intervene to support the recapitalisation of banks,
  • – intervene in the secondary markets to help avoid contagion

Once the EFSF is ratified, we should make the most efficient use of its financial envelope. The Commission is working on options to this end.

Moreover we should do everything possible to accelerate the entry into force of the ESM.

And naturally we trust that the European Central Bank – in full respect of the Treaty – will do whatever is necessary to ensure the integrity of the euro area and to ensure its financial stability.

But we cannot stop there. We must deepen economic coordination and integration, particularly in the euro area.

This is at least as big a political task as an economic one.

Today, you (the European Parliament) will vote on the so-called “six-pack” proposals that we put in front of you and the Council one year ago. This “six-pack” reforms the Stability and Growth Pact and widens surveillance to macro-economic imbalances. We are now back very close to what the Commission originally put on the table. You have played a decisive role in keeping the level of ambition of these proposals, and I really want to thank you and congratulate you for that.

This legislation will give us much stronger enforcement mechanisms. We can now discuss Member States’ budgetary plans before national decisions are taken. This mix of discipline and integration holds the key to the future of the euro area. Only with more integration and discipline we can have a really credible euro area.

These are indeed important steps forward, but we must go further. We need to complete our monetary union with an economic union. We need to achieve the tasks of Maastricht.

It was an illusion to think that we could have a common currency and a single market with national approaches to economic and budgetary policy. Let’s avoid another illusion that we can have a common currency and a single market with an intergovernmental approach.

For the euro area to be credible – and this not only the message of the federalists, this is the message of the markets – we need a truly Community approach. We need to really integrate the euro area, we need to complete the monetary union with real economic union. And this truly Community approach can be built how? In the coming weeks, the Commission will build on the six-pack and present a proposal for a single, coherent framework to deepen economic coordination and integration, particularly in the euro area. This will be done in a way that ensures the compatibility between the euro area and the Union as a whole. We do not want the euro area to break of course the great acquis of the single market and all our four freedoms.

For all of this to work, we need more than ever the independent authority of the Commission, to propose and assess the actions that the Member States should take. Governments, let’s be frank, cannot do this by themselves. Nor can this be done by negotiations between governments.

Indeed, within the Community competences, the Commission is the economic government of the Union, we certainly do not need more institutions for this.

For a reason the Treaties have created supra-national institutions. For a reason the European Commission, the European Central Bank, the European Court of Justice were created. The Commission is the guarantor of fairness. Moreover, the Commission, which naturally works in partnership with the Member States, is voted by and accountable to this House. The directly elected Parliament both of the euro area and of the European Union as a whole.

Financial Transaction Tax

In the last three years, Member States – I should say taxpayers – have granted aid and provided guarantees of € 4.6 trillion to the financial sector. It is time for the financial sector to make a contribution back to society. That is why I am very proud to say that today, the Commission adopted a proposal for the Financial Transaction Tax. Today I am putting before you a very important text that if implemented may generate a revenue of above € 55 billion per year. Some people will ask “Why?”. Why? It is a question of fairness. If our farmers, if our workers, if all the sectors of the economy from industry to agriculture to services, if they all pay a contribution to the society also the banking sector should make a contribution to the society.

And if we need – because we need – fiscal consolidation, if we need more revenues the question is where these revenues are coming from. Are we going to tax labour more? Are we going to tax consumption more? I think it is fair to tax financial activities that in some of our Member States do not pay the proportionate contribution to the society.

The State of the Union Address was all about Mr Barroso

Labour Party

“Where was the European Commission during the crises of the past year?” asked Martin Schulz, Socialist and Democrat Leader in the European Parliament following Jose-Manuel Barroso’s “State of the Union” address.

Schulz is indeed right.  What did the European Commission do about bankers’ bonuses at the beginning of the world economic crisis and what have they ever done in real terms to reduce the gap between the have and the have nots?

The debate, while wide ranging, was ultimately unsatisfying, largely because it was nearly all theory and very little about practical politics. More of a manifesto than a report on last year’s activities, European Commission President Barroso’s address, though upbeat, was curiously lightweight.

Barroso, of course, pressed all the right buttons, but as Martin Schulz pointed out, failed to expand or deal with any of the real issues.  The European Union, in particular the European Commission, really needs to get out of its wishful thinking mode.  As Martin Schulz said, Mr Barroso and his Commission nearly always cave into to the Franco/German alliance which is effectively in control of the Council of Ministers.

In fact, there is a real divergence between the aspiration of the European Council/Council of Minister and the European Commission.  While Martin Schulz disparages what he terms increasing intergovernmentalism, I think we should view this from another perspective.

Following enlargement of the European Union in 2004, not to mention the opposition to further EU integration from some other Member States, the vision of further European integration is, I believe, profoundly unrealistic.  But it’s a vision which has legs with the Leader of the centre-right European People’s Party, Joseph Daul from France, stating in his response to Barroso that people need “more Europe”.

To be fair to Mr Barroso he did not quite give us that.  It was, in effect, a shopping list with no really coherent political basis.  He talked, amongst other things, about the need for a functioning European single market, support for universities and lifelong learning, a European patent, energy security, climate change and creating green jobs and a global role for the European Union.

I have to admit, there was little I disagreed with.  Martin Schulz was again right when he called it a state of the union address for all people.       

However, while Barroso’s strong condemnation of racism and xenophobia was admirable, he failed to mention President Sarkozy’s expulsion of the Roma. Not exactly the approach we would expect of a serious political leader.

It’s hardly surprising that there were those who thought MEPs may not be in the Chamber to hear Mr Barroso.  The quality and content of his speech were more about boosting his profile than tackling the serious issues currently facing Europe.  However, the bribe to dock money from those MEPs who did not attend was extremely undignified and ultimately had to be withdrawn. Yet many were, in fact, present.  It’s a shame they were not regarded sufficiently to be given a speech of substance and, dare I say, vision.

At last we have a European Commission

Labour Party

José Manuel Barroso

Cathy Ashton

Viviane Reding

Joaquín Almunia

Siim Kallas

Neelie Kroes

So we now have a European Commission, a mere eight months after the European elections at the beginning of June last year.  It’s been an interminably long process for no particular reason that is immediately obvious.

Yes, we did have the problems with Mrs Jeleva, Bulgaria’s original nominee for Commissioner who proved to be not up to the job at her European Parliament Committee Hearing and has now been replaced by Kristalina Georgieva.  While this necessitated another hearing, that’s hardly a good reason for the whole business taking eight months.

The fact that the EU moves slowly is hardly news.  More interesting is the decision taken by the ECR (the political group founded and largely made up of British Tories) to abstain when the European Parliament voted to agree the new European Commission yesterday. 

Antonio Tajani

Janez Potočnik

Olli Rehn

Andris Piebalgs

Michel Barnier

Androulla Vassiliou

Abstention seems a cowardly approach, neither one thing or the other.  If you don’t like the new arrangements, have the courage of your convictions and vote against. 

Jan Zahradil who spoke on behalf of the ECR during the debate in the European Parliament didn’t manage to shed much light on their pusillanimous behaviour, saying to Mr Barroso, Commission President,  “In 2005, you came up with the idea of cutting red tape by simplifying legislation. Why not revive this idea now?” He added “If you demonstrate that you’re a reformer, we shall back you, but if you follow well-trodden paths, we shall stand up and resist you”.  If the ECR doesn’t like Barroso, they should, of course, put their money where their mouth is and not hide behind abstaining.

Inevitably there have been criticisms of the way Barroso put together his team of Commissioners and allocated portfolios.  I have to say I am not at all happy with the way portfolios do not correspond to the work of European Parliament Committees.  For instance, on the Culture and Education Committee we have Mrs. Vassiliou as our main Commissioner covering education, culture, multilingualism and youth.  However we also have to deal with Neelie Kroes on the digital agenda and Vivian Reding for some of the wider communication brief including media pluralism.  This lack of alignment of portfolios to Committee responsibilities will, I believe, have the effect of weakening European Parliament Committees in their dealings with Commissioners, i.e. Barroso will stand a better chance of getting his agenda through.

President Barroso’s leadership style has, in fact, caused much consternation.  The Green Group put forward a motion, which was subsequently rejected, to the plenary session on the European Parliament yesterday.  I did, however, agree with some of it, notably its statement that Mr Barroso has weakened the position of individual Commissioners-designate by implementing a policy of divide and rule i.e. by defining and allocating portfolios without proper consideration for their abilities and affinities, and has even moved Commissioners away from portfolios in which, to date, they have demonstrated their competence.  This policy has arguably led, inter alia, to the resignation of one of the nominees.

The resolution went on to note that Mr Barroso has reshuffled portfolios within the Commission in a such a way that there is no clear division of responsibility in some key areas, thus confirming the trend towards a presidential model for the Commission, with the risk that the role of individual Commissioners may be reduced to that of advisors to the President, a state of affairs at odds with the spirit of the Treaties.  You may at this point be forgiven for thinking that Mr Barroso is seeking to become the real President rather than one of equal status to the EU’s other four presidents.

Meanwhile, here is the new European Commission as approved by the European Parliament yesterday.

Maroš Šefčovič

Dacian Cioloş

Kristalina Georgieva

Cecilia Malmström

Johannes Hahn

László Andor

Stefan Füle

Connie Hedegaard

Günther Oettinger

Maria Damanaki

Janusz Lewandowski

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn

John Dalli

Karel De Gucht

Algirdas Semeta

Post Lisbon Blues

Labour Party

Reading the Guardian today you may be forgiven for thinking we are all suffering from a massive dose of gloom at the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg this week.  To say nothing could be further from the truth would be an exaggeration; it’s more like business as usual with a bit extra doom thrown in for good measure.

Things are quite obviously not going to well on the big issues.  The economy across Europe is  in the doldrums with the current crisis in Greece making everyone very jittery.

To add insult to injury, the much vaunted Copenhagen summit on climate change held in December was little short of a farce.  Badly organised and lacking any sort of focus, it failed to produce any binding agreement.  Since the environment in general and climate issues in particular do not respect national borders and therefore require international action, this whole policy area is almost universally seen as Europe’s strongest card.  To come so unstuck at Copenhagen was therefore extremely bad news.

What is more, Europe’s internal, what EU jargon call “inter-institutional”, organisation is in a state of flux following the Lisbon Treaty.  There are now no less than four presidents:  Jose-Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, current holder of the six month rotating presidency.

You may recall that one of my reasons for supporting Tony Blair for as President of the European Council was to have one strong leader who would be above all the inter-institutional rivalry and cut down on the chaos.  Alas this wasn’t to be, to Europe’s immediate and, I believe, long term detriment.

President Obama recently cancelled his attendance at an EU summit due to be held in Madrid in May, allegedly because he doesn’t know who is in charge in the EU.  It looks suspiciously as if Obama is  following in the apocryphal footsteps of Henry Kissinger who apparently felt the same way.  Since this snub follows hard on the heels of the United States President’s failure to take much account of the EU at Copenhagen, Europe has much to think about.

The underlying and very real danger is that the world revolves once again around two super powers – this time the Unites States and China.  Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin wall we may be back to the same old alignment, capitalist and communist, west and east with the same potential for an aggressive arms build up.

The EU was perhaps never going to be strong enough to be the force countering these two massive countries with their huge landmass, natural resources and, perhaps more important, their overwhelming sense of national identity.  Yet we in Europe are in real danger of missing out on any meaningful influence.  While the EU remains riven with internal jealousies, unable to move forward, the chance of acting as a player on the world stage and being the counterweight to the USA and China lessens by the day.  Strength lies in unity not fragmentation.

Neelie Kroes hearing less than adequate

Labour Party

Commissioner-Designate Neelie Kroes is facing difficulties following her Hearing last Thursday.  Competition Commissioner throughout the last European Parliament mandate, Ms Kroes, a member of the Liberal Group from Holland, has been given the digital agenda portfolio by Commission President, Jose Manuel Barosso. 

Ms Kroes had a reputation as a strong Commissioner when she held the Competition brief.  I therefore expected her to breeze through her Hearing this time.  She is, after all, the woman who stood up to new technology giant Microsoft.  For many years, Microsoft tied its ‘Internet Explorer’ web browser to its ‘Windows’ computer operating system. Concerned that – given Microsoft’s dominance of the PC operating system market – this deprived consumers of choice and resulted in fewer innovative products, Ms Kroes set about opening up the market.

 The initiative proved successful and in October 2009, Microsoft offered commitments to remove this barrier to competition.  No mean achievement for the EU in general and Ms Kroes in particular.

 After such a feat you would have thought a Hearing before MEPs, albeit on a different portfolio, would have presented no problems at all.  But this was not the case.

 I went to the part of the Hearing which concerned the Culture and Education Committee dealing with cultural diversity and media pluralism.  I did, in fact, ask Ms Kroes how she would go about securing futher pluralism in the media and lessening the concentration of media outlets in the hands of certain individuals and corporations.  I have to say, she didn’t seem to understand the question and gave a less than adequate reply.

 Mine was not the only question mishandled.  Ms Kroes, in addition, did not appear interested in the UNESCO Convention on the protection and promotion of cultural diversity, which the EU is signed up to. 

 We have not, so far, rejected Ms Kroes, but she is to be re-interviewed tomorrow.  I will be bringing you an update as soon as I possibly can.

Catherine Ashton maximum points, Charles Tannock none whatsoever

Labour Party

I have just finished listening to Baroness Ashton at her Commissioner Hearing before the Foreign Affairs, Development, Budgetary Control, Trade and Constitutional Affairs Committees.  I have to say she did extremely well.  Cathy dealt ably with questions on everything from what to do with Iran to relations with the United States, and how she will set up and organise the new EU diplomatic service.

 The only disappointment to me was the juvenile questions put by Conservative MEP Charles Tannock, whose views on Cathy I have already blogged about.  In such an important forum, I would have hoped that the Tories could put to one side their petty campaign against Cathy, a campaign waged simply because she is from the Labour Party.  While other MEPs asked questions of real foreign policy substance, Charles Tannock was able only to sling mud by asking about Cathy’s membership CND nearly 30 years ago. 

 I have previously blogged on the Parliament’s approval of the President of the Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, for a second term.  The 26 Commissioners-Designate (one from each Member State, with the exception of Portugal, President Barroso’s home country), each of whom will be in charge of a particular portfolio in the Commission, are now subject to approval of the Parliament.

 The Hearings, due to take place this week and next, are by no means a mere formality.  As briefly mentioned in my previous post, during the course of the 2004 Hearings the Civil Liberties Committee brought about the resignation of Rocco Buttiglione, the original choice as Italian Commissioner, after in-depth questioning about his views on homosexuality.  The Parliament’s role this time round has even more significance given the enhanced powers of the Parliament under the Lisbon Treaty.

 These Hearings are a real opportunity for the Parliament to exercise scrutiny over the Commissioners-Designate, and in my opinion should not be used for mere political point scoring.  Over the next few days, I will be attending and putting questions at several of the Hearings relevant to the Culture Committee.  I will also be regularly tweeting and blogging on the progress of the Hearings.  Each Commissioner will have an important and influential position and while Parliament takes its scrutinising role seriously, it is also important that we as MEPs communicate the progress of these hearings to keep you informed on the democratic appointment process taking place within the EU.

 So please keep checking my blog and tweets.  You never know, this year’s Hearings may provide more high level political drama!  It’s happened before and could happen again.

Tony Blair divides the Socialists again

Labour Party

Blair EU

I have just come from a meeting of the European Parliament Socialists and Democrats (S & D) Group – the one which used to be called the Party of European Socialists – and I am incandescent with rage.  The rage is again on behalf of Tony Blair and Britain, one of the minority of countries in the European Union to have a government from the same political family as the S & D Group.

 It is, inevitably at present, about the soon to be established post of President of the European Council of Ministers.  The S & D Group as a whole have, it must be said, shown no support for the Blair bid, and more of that later.  My ire is more against the two S & D MEPs who tabled an anti-Blair Written Declaration (similar to an Early Day Motion) in the Parliament.

They know who they are, but for the record I am talking about Robert Goebbels from Luxembourg and German Jo Leinen.  (A Written Declaration needs five signatures – the other three were from other political groups).

 The Written Declaration is particularly damning, asking that the new President be a figure with whom all the people of Europe can identify and whether he/she has displayed the ability to move the EU forward.  It also states the “figure” must come from a country in the Euro and the Schengen Agreement and be from a country which does not refuse to apply the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

It doesn’t take much to work out that the “figure” is our very own TB.  The attack on Tony continued in the S & D Group meeting when one of the proposers of the Written Declaration made it clear he didn’t think Socialists could support Blair due to Tony’s lack of solidarity with other socialists over the Iraq war as well as his attending the French UMP conference just before the Presidential election in France and Blair’s closeness to Berlusconi.

 Tony Blair was the most successful Labour Prime Minister Britain has ever had, winning three election victories, bringing peace to Northern Ireland and improving health and education beyond all expectations.  It is high time European socialist “colleagues” buried their petty jealousies and did what is best for the S & D Group and best for Europe by not continually carping about one of Europe’s most influential leaders, who also happens to be one of us.

Back to the Blair bid itself as opposed to personal animosity.  The S & D Group together with the heads of government in those countries with socialist governments, wrongly in my view, decided to go for the Socialists holding the new position of High Representative for Foreign Affairs, a post which straddles both Council and Commission with the post holder also being Vice-President of the Commission.  The thinking was that the EPP centre-right, who already have the President of the Commission in the form of Jose-Manuel Barroso, will probably get the Council President as well. Given this, the Socialists should have the next bite of the cherry, namely the High Representative.

 This is how David Miliband came to be approached to be High Representative, rather late in the day. Sadly he declined, all but ending British hopes.  EU horse trading has won the day again, showing the worst side of what happens here.  I am tempted to ask, when will they ever learn?  Deals done behind closed doors do not inspire confidence and cause a lot of harm.  Europe will never get closer to its people as long as EU leaders behave like some out of touch clique considering only their own narrow interests.