Will Tony Blair Opt For Europe?

LONDON: In the closing days of the British election, the country's leading business paper, The Financial Times, came out against John Major's Conservative government and in support of Tony Blair's "New Labour" party. It summed up its reasons in a phrase: "Europe is the issue".

It pointed out that under the Conservatives relations between Britain and the European Union (EU) had deteriorated sharply. The Conservatives had drifted so far into an anti-Europeanposture that it was impossible to believe that they could make rational policy towards the EU. That left only one option: to vote for Blair and New Labour.

What is strange here is that there are no obvious grounds for confidence that Labour will follow a policy significantly more pro-European than the Conservatives. On the contrary, throughout the election campaign Tony Blair mimicked the anti-European rhetoric of the Conservatives, so as to avoid damaging accusations that he was preparing to "sell out" to Brussels. On the key question of the single european currency (emu), he refused to commit himself on whether, when, or in what circumstances he would join. His policy, like John Major's, is one of "Wait-and-See".

The problem with this dilatory posture, is that it is not suited to the EU agenda, or even to the facts of life. By mid-June, governments are due to wrap up negotiations in the Inter- Governmental Conference (IGC), on the far-reaching political reforms required to make it feasible to enlarge the Union into Eastern Europe. Six months later, they will start the enlargement process itself, by launching negotiations with candidate countries. And a year from now, they will launch the final phase of economic and monetary union and the single currency.