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By Peter Hoskin
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Liam
Fox isn’t the only one-time member of the Cabinet talking about Europe today — Tony Blair’s
at it too. Our former Prime Minister has delivered a speech in which he
proposes a directly elected President for Europe. Apparently, it’s the “most
direct way to involve the public” in European politics.

But
before you guffaw at this modest little proposal of Mr Blair’s, it’s worth
noting that his speech does actually say something more than that. His argument
basically comes in three parts:

i)
To deal with its current crisis, and to stave off any future crises, the eurozone
needs to be more economically integrated:

“The
economics imply a strategy based less on incremental steps; and more on a ‘Grand
Bargain’ agreement that deals with liquidity per the ECB; solvency with the
necessary fiscal transfers; banking union; a large degree of fiscal
coordination; far reaching structural reform; and the back loading not front
loading of austerity plans, to protect growth – and all at once.”

ii)
Economic integration will require greater political integration:

“Put
simply there can’t be the integration of large areas of economic policy –
banking union, fiscal union, even the prospect of an EU Treasury – without a
commensurate political union. So inevitably now, along with the resolution of
the immediate crisis, comes the investigation of what such a union would look
like.”

iii)
Political integration will gain legitimacy from democratic involvement:

“So designing this new union will be very difficult. Let me
make a few quick reflections. A Europe wide election for the Presidency of the Commission
or Council is the most direct way to involve the public. An election for a big
post held by one person – this people can understand. The problem with the
European Parliament is that though clearly democratically elected, my
experience is people don’t feel close to their MEP’s. This could change but
only if the European Parliament and National parliaments interact far more
closely.”

In
the broadest sense — putting aside details such as whether there should be a
directly elected European President — both Eurosceptics and Europhiles might
agree with the above. The differences really kick in when it comes to the
question of British involvement in this new union. There are those who would want to see it restricted to the eurozone, thus affording Britain an
opportunity to step back from Europe’s core. And there are those who will want
to see Britain wrapped up with the whole process, a fully signed-up state in
the federation of Europe.

As
for Blair’s position, it’s rather unclear. His speech flits imprecisely between
the European Union and the Eurozone, just as it flits from saying that “a
single currency along with a single market makes sense for Europe” to arguing
that “the rest of the EU will have to understand and hopefully accommodate the
UK’s very special position in the financial sector”. But, as a former Prime
Minister, he can afford a little impreciseness on these questions. The current
PM, you feel, will not enjoy the same freedom.

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