» Wednesday, June 16, 2004


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.

Asked to explain our problems with the Charter in terms of the UK’s employment laws, the PMOS said that the Charter codified existing rights. It did not create new ones. We wanted to be absolutely clear that it would not impinge on our laws relating to strikes. Asked why the Prime Minister was so concerned about this particular issue, the PMOS said we wanted to be sure that nothing in the Charter would impact on national law regarding strikes. Clarification was therefore critical in the negotiating process. That was one of the objectives of the European Council meeting this week. Asked if the FT was correct to suggest today that the UK wanted to see written – and explained – explicitly in the text of the Constitution that the Charter would not affect Britain’s trade union laws, the PMOS said that he had no intention of getting drawn into a detailed public discussion about any one particular issue. These were matters which should be negotiated around the table at the Summit. Asked if it would form one of our red lines, the PMOS said we wanted to be clear that nothing in the Charter would impinge on our national interests. In relation to the areas defined in the IGC White Paper, the bottom line was that the EU could not impose on the UK something it did not want. Asked if the Charter was the most likely stumbling block in this European Council, the PMOS said that the Charter was an issue we had highlighted many times. Our insistence that it needed to be clarified should come as no surprise to our European partners.

Asked if the Prime Minister would remain in Brussels for as long as was necessary in order to secure an agreement on the Constitution, the PMOS said that we didn’t know how long the negotiations would go on for at this point. The Irish Presidency wanted to press for a deal and we fully supported their endeavours in doing so. At last December’s Summit, however, people had realised relatively quickly that things were not coming together and that a deal would not be forthcoming. It was only once we arrived in Brussels that we would be able to gauge the atmosphere and decide whether a deal was on, could be on, or was not on. There was no point speculating about it at this point.

Asked if the Prime Minister believed that his hand had been strengthened by the results of the European elections, the PMOS said that he had answered this question at both of Monday’s briefings. The Prime Minister and the Government had set out the position in the IGC White Paper. Our European partners were well aware of our thinking. An agreement would depend on whether our requirements were met. Equally, it was important to recognise that this whole matter was not down to the UK alone. There were other issues in which we were not directly involved – most notably the issue of vote weighting – on which other countries would have to take a view. This was a negotiation which required the participation of twenty-five countries. Consequently, we would only know whether a deal was possible once we gauged the stances and opinions of our other European partners across a whole range of issues. Asked if the Prime Minister would be disappointed if no deal was reached as a result of a failure to agree on these other issues, the PMOS said the Prime Minister believed that a Treaty was in the interests of this country since he felt that it would deliver a more coherent and accountable EU. This was because the agenda would be driven forward by a President answerable to the European Council which represented the national Governments, rather than the current rotating Presidency. Moreover, it would meant that, for the first time, national Parliaments would be able to have a direct input into EU legislation because any objection by a third of the EU member states would require the legislation to be reconsidered. That said, it was important for people to recognise that simply getting a deal wasn’t enough. The Treaty would only be in the interests of this country if the deal was right.

Asked if the Prime Minister believed that other European countries should take into account the message they all received from the European election results, the PMOS said that as the Prime Minister had told journalists in his monthly press conference yesterday, we understood that as long as Europe remained focussed on its own internal workings and engaged in rows over the Constitution, it would obscure the real benefits which a European Union would bring to people in their daily lives in terms of jobs, stability and the liberalisation of the telecommunication, energy and services markets, for example. That said, it was clear that a Europe which had been designed for six could not operate in the same for a membership of twenty-five. That was why it was necessary to have the discussions we were having about the Constitution. In the Prime Minister’s view, therefore, the sooner that was over with, the quicker we could focus on people’s real concerns – jobs, prosperity, and stability. In so doing, it would obviously benefit Europe in terms of efficiency and effectiveness, and would also help to reconnect the EU to the people on the ground.

Asked for a reaction to reports that the Prime Minister was considering Peter Mandelson as a potential European Commissioner, the PMOS said that no decision had been taken at this stage, as the Prime Minister had made clear yesterday. That remained the position.

Asked about the UK’s choice of candidate to replace Romano Prodi as President of the European Commission, the PMOS said that this was a decision which would be taken by all twenty-five countries of the EU, not unilaterally. Discussions about this issue would therefore be had in private. No decision had been taken at this point.

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

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