» Monday, June 14, 2004


Asked about this week’s European Council in Brussels, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that everyone, including our European partners, was aware of what we wanted to achieve. We wanted to see a Constitution which would allow the enlarged EU to work together effectively in the interests of this country. However, that could only happen if the red lines, which we had established, were respected. This included, for example, ensuring that the new Charter did not in any way impinge on our local laws in relation to issues such as strikes and the like. Obviously there was more work to be done on these matters. It was also important to recognise that the issue of vote weighting, which had proven to be an obstacle in reaching an agreement last December, had yet to be resolved, if that was at all possible to do. This was not something in which we were particularly involved.

Asked if the Prime Minister believed that his hand had been strengthened or weakened by the results of the European elections, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had been clear from the outset about what he wanted to see from the new EU Treaty. In his view, it would strengthen Britain’s position to work in co-operation with our European partners where appropriate, while at the same time safeguarding the vital national interest in relation to tax, defence and foreign policy. Asked about our other red lines, the PMOS said that we had set them out many times. He was not going to comment on the negotiations of each individual area.

Asked if the Prime Minister continued to believe that he had a mandate to agree the Treaty in the light of the European election results, the PMOS said that as a Civil Servant he was unable to comment directly on party political matters. However, on a more general point, it was important for people to recognise that it was the individual member countries of the EU which took the decisions that were vital to their own national interests. Since it was national Governments which negotiated treaties, not the European Parliament, the Prime Minister had decided that any Treaty agreed this weekend would be put to the country in a referendum. That would be the mandate to decide whether the Treaty should be ratified or not. Questioned as to whether the election results would change the parameters in terms of the way the Prime Minister would re-enter the negotiations in Brussels later this week, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary had both set out some time ago the basic parameters in which they felt that any Treaty would be acceptable to this country. The Prime Minister had also decided that it would be the right thing to do to put the outcome of any successful Treaty negotiation to the people. In the end, therefore, it would be the people of this country who would decide whether it was acceptable or not. Put to him that the people of this country had set down their own basic parameters through the election results, the PMOS pointed out that a Treaty had not yet been agreed. Once it was, they would be able to vote directly on the actual outcome of the negotiations, rather than what they ‘feared’ to be the outcome. That was an important distinction to make.

Asked if the Prime Minister would now set out the pro-European case as he had said he would, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister frequently argued the case for Europe and would continue to do so by pointing out the jobs, prosperity and stability which the EU had brought. However, he recognised that a Europe which was focussed on sorting out its own internal workings was not one which was focussed on selling that message. The Treaty was a means to an end, not an end in itself. Therefore, the sooner it could be agreed, the better. We wanted to see an effective Europe which would allow the individual members states to work together as nations. Once agreement was reached, it would be possible to argue the case for Europe. However, we had to make sure that we had the right Treaty, not one that was agreed at any cost. Asked if he would agree that the Chancellor, rather than the EU, should accept any praise for jobs, prosperity and stability, the PMOS said that of course the Chancellor’s record spoke for itself. However, the biggest single market in the world within which structural reform was taking place and restrictions on telecommunications and energy, for example, were being taken down had a great deal to offer this country, as organisations, such as the CBI, had made clear. The question was whether we wanted to see more economic reform Europe. The answer to that was yes, of course. The question then was how best to achieve that – within the EU or without? Pressed as to whether the Prime Minister believed that improvements in jobs, prosperity and stability were a result of the EU or the Government, the PMOS said that improvements had been made because of the way in which this Government had pursued the national interest through the benefits brought by the EU and its wider approach to the economy. It was not a question of either/or.

Asked how the Prime Minister rated the chances of reaching an agreement on the Treaty this weekend, the PMOS said we believed that a deal was still possible. Indeed, the latest drafts showed that progress was being made in the right direction. However, there was still negotiation to be done regarding our red lines. In addition, the issue of vote weighting, which had caused an obstruction last December, had yet to be resolved. Asked if Britain would be happy to give up its national veto on social security policy and criminal law to allow progress to continue to be made “in the right direction”, the PMOS said that he wouldn’t characterise it in that way. Our position was clear. The fundamentals of the criminal justice system would remain intact. Similarly, we would protect our position on social security. He pointed out that these issues were being discussed by the Foreign Secretary at the GAC today in Luxembourg. He had absolutely no intention of giving a running commentary on the discussions.

Asked how serious it would be if no deal was reached this weekend, the PMOS said that as the Prime Minister had made very clear, he believed it was important to reach a deal which would allow a Europe at twenty five to work together effectively. The current rules were designed for the 1950s when the EU had had a membership of six. That was why it was necessary to update them. A new Treaty would firmly establish a President who would drive forward the agenda set by the Council of Ministers, not the Commission. It would give new rights to national Parliaments to have an input into EU legislation. Any deal, however, would have to protect our national interests on matters such as social security, criminal law, tax, defence and foreign policy. That was the balance which it was necessary to strike. We were not looking for a deal at any price. We were looking for a deal which would be in the interests of the EU and individual member states.

Asked if the Prime Minister believed that the combined strength of UKIP and the BNP was a serious danger to his objective to build a pro-European consensus, the PMOS said that as a Civil Servant he was unable to comment on party political issues. That said, the Prime Minister obviously accepted that a strong argument was necessary in setting out the Government’s position. That would be done if a Treaty was agreed. In the meantime, it was important to have a considered, rational debate about what was in the UK’s long term interests. Pressed as to whether the Prime Minister believed that there were forces at work which could threaten his objective, the PMOS said the Prime Minister recognised that there were those, both in the UK and throughout Europe, who were Euro-sceptics. That was why the Government believed it was important to argue the case as to why Europe played a vital role in pursuing what was in this country’s interests.

Asked if the draft text relating to tax harmonisation which had appeared yesterday would be acceptable to the UK, the PMOS said that he absolutely no intention of giving a running commentary on individual aspects of the Constitution text. Asked if the Chancellor would be present throughout the negotiations on the Treaty later this week, the PMOS referred journalists to the Treasury Press Office for details about the Chancellor’s diary. Put to him that it was an important point, the PMOS said it went without saying that the Prime Minister would be in constant contact with his Cabinet colleagues throughout.

Questioned repeatedly as to why Downing Street had stopped its pre-summit briefings, the PMOS said that we held such briefings in situations where we believed it would be useful to do so. This Summit was about a negotiation which was still taking place. If an agreement was reached this weekend, there would be no shortage of opportunities to ask questions about the actual deal, rather than dwell on hypothetical and speculative points.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

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