February 23, 2008
Eight months after becoming prime minister, Gordon Brown has deigned to visit the Commission in Brussels. Whatever his views of Brussels, the Commission, the European Union or indeed of non-Anglophone foreigners, this is not the way to win friends and influence people. But then, there has up to now been no indication that he wants to. The British Prime Minister has always seemed to be more comfortable being on the outside, looking in. He showed this with his solo-signing of the Lisbon Treaty.
It’s hard to imagine anyone but extreme eurosceptics applauding this approach. The UK rightly wants more CAP reform, greater efficiency and an overhaul of the budget. He will face a very difficult negotiation over the British rebate. To achieve these objectives, Mr Brown needs friends. He has precious few.
As the Prime Minister did not take the opportunity to make a public speech on his European policy, we still have to work this out from the ‘Number 10 Downing St – censored’ Bruges speech of Foreign Minister David Miliband.
To come to Thursday’s visit. On substance, he rightly stated that we must focus on the issues that really matter to our citizens – prosperity and jobs, security and climate change; and that we must accelerate economic reform to enable European citizens and businesses to compete.
It seems that the three-hour meeting with Jose Manuel Barroso went well. The talks with Peter Mandelson were apparently very constructive, having regard to their past (non-)relationship
What conclusions can be drawn from the visit? Hopefully, the Prime Minister has realised that the Commission’s agenda – free trade, liberalising the telecoms and energy markets, and climate change – accord with his own ideas; that only by engaging can he influence, and, like it or not, Brussels is highly relevant to him and to the UK.
Describing the EU as being “essential to the success of Britain, and a Britain fully engaged in Europe is essential to the success of the EU”, was unexpected, as was his and hope that it would take the lead in building a sustainable world.
The title of George Parker’s piece in yesterday’s Financial Times: “Brown goes on EU charm offensive”, is hard to imagine in reality, but we can at least hope for an end of his negative body language and general air of disdain.Author : Stanley Crossick