Asked if there was any concern within Government that England might be thrown out of Euro 2004 because of hooliganism, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that that was a matter for the football authorities. The Prime Minister had been anxious today to send a message, both to those fans in Portugal and at home, that we in no way condoned such activity. Although we recognised that it was being carried out by a small minority, the message had to be sent loudly and clearly that such behaviour would not be tolerated and the police, both here and in Portugal, had our full support in dealing with it. In answer to further questions, the PMOS said that those responsible for the violence, small though they might be in number, should know that they were bringing shame on England by their behaviour.
Asked to confirm the reportedly on-the-record view of a senior British official in Brussels that the Prime Minister did not support the candidature of Guy Verhofstadt as European Commission President in succession to Romano Prodi, the PMOS said that he was not aware of the remarks and could not therefore comment. Serious discussions about candidates for this important post were continuing and it was obviously better for them to take place in private between the EU Heads of Government. Asked if the Prime Minister did not support Mr Verhofstadt because he was too anti-American, the PMOS said that he had absolutely no intention of getting drawn into a public discussion about the merits or demerits of individual candidates. Suffice to say that we recognised the significance of the job and that it should be up to EU Heads of Government to discuss any nominations privately. Put to him that the discussions did not appear to be taking place in private if British officials were briefing in public in Brussels, the PMOS said that he would brief in his way, others would brief in theirs. He underlined that we would not be discussing the individual candidates in public. It was a discussion which would be had around the table in Brussels by the EU Heads of Government. Asked to explain why it was perfectly fine for the French and Germans to indicate their support for Mr Verhofstadt, whereas the UK was unable even to hint that we might be less enthusiastic about his candidature than Antonio Vittorino's for example, the PMOS said we would stick to our traditional approach to these matters and leave the discussions to be held in private. Asked if, "in general terms", the UK would favour having someone who was avowedly federalist as European Commission President, the PMOS said that our position on the Treaty and Constitution was very clear. If an agreement was reached, we believed that it would reflect our view that Europe should work together as a group of nations who co-operated on matters of common interest. That was a view widely shared within the EU, particularly by the new Accession countries.
Asked the Prime Minister's view on the prospect of an agreement on the Constitution at the European Council meeting this week, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said the honest answer was that we simply didn't know whether that would happen at this stage. We had set out our position in the IGC White Paper. Our European partners were well aware of our arguments. If our requirements were met, we believed a deal could be possible. If they were not, then that would have consequences as well. The important thing was to recognise that there were twenty-four other EU member states, each with their own position. Issues such as vote weighting, with which the UK had had no particular involvement, had proven to be the stumbling block last December and had yet to be resolved. We would go into the European Council this week hoping a deal could be reached, although such a thing was by no means certain at this stage. Asked to spell out the consequences were our requirements not to be met, the PMOS said that obviously it would mean there would be no deal. However, people shouldn't get too ahead of themselves at this point. The negotiations at the Summit had yet to take place. As he had been underlining over the last few days, we believed that progress had been made on our points. Nevertheless, we felt that further clarification was necessary. People would need to be a little patient.
PM Press Conference
Asked if the Prime Minister had "lost any threads" today in the light of speculation about his press conference performance yesterday, the PMOS said that as he had told journalists yesterday afternoon, the Prime Minister had been giving a considered answer to a considered question posed by a serious journalist from a serious paper. Asked if he was in perfect health, the PMOS said yes. If journalists had bothered to turn up to yesterday afternoon's press briefing, they would have heard him lay this matter to rest, not "lost the thread" of the story themselves.
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