Last week, after making a few mild noises, the socialist wing of Labour could not find a substantial challenger to vie with Gordon Brown for leadership of the Party which means his ascension to Prime Minister was nolo contendere. But the Party does not meet for over a month, so Brown cannot become the duly elected Party Leader, and thus Prime Minister, because Tony Blair won’t hand over the keys to the increasingly dis-United Kingdom until that date. There is no precedent in history for this rather awkward situation. Until recently, one might have opined that Brown was in Limbo, but Pope Benedict just tossed that location into the theological dust bin, leaving us with another simile. If this is Gordon Brown’s date with destiny, it is the worst blind date since Roosevelt met de Gaulle.
The Tory Leader, David Cameron, has derided this circumstance as a function of Blair acting “like a pop star on a farewell tour.” British media suggests that Cherie Blair is getting worried about her husband’s inability to give up his place on the world stage. It is known that the necessary security upgrades to their post Downing Street residence (in a decidedly Muslim area of London) are nowhere near complete. Indeed, Blair is running all over the planet, sleeping in The White House, sustaining incoming volleys in Baghdad, denying that he will take over The World Bank, and refuting rumors that he will convert to Catholicism upon leaving Downing Street. In reality, Tony’s tenacious timetable was dictated by his need to still be Prime Minister when the EU Summit Meeting occurs, in Brussels, in June. Cameron got it spot on. Alas for poor Tony, the world stage he wanted as a backdrop for his final bows is quickly turning into a muddy playing field.
Here’s the game that’s afoot.
The Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe (TECE) was signed in Rome by representatives of the existing European Union member states on October 29th 2004. It was in the process of ratification when, in 2005, French (May 29th) and Dutch (June 1st) voters rejected the proposed unwieldy document. Had it been ratified, the Constitution would have gone into force on November 1, 2006. Now it appears that what could not be won by ballots might just be imposed via a back-door decree.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who currently holds the rotating EU Presidency until the end of June, has made it known that she has crafted a revised version of the failed Constitution. Merkel intends to submit this document, which has been christened “The Berlin Declaration,” for a vote at the Brussels summit. The Declaration (more or less) does not mention the failed Constitution, but it is essentially a Mini-Me by any other name. Merkel’s Declaration is said to have kept as many of the elements of the tanked Constitution as possible, including the establishment of a permanent EU President and a Foreign Minister who would jointly sit atop a heaping, heaving bureaucracy in Brussels.
Thus it was not just a neighborly courtesy call that brought Nicholas Sarkozy to Germany on the same afternoon he was sworn in as President of France. He felt it was imperative to assert his authority and deliver a message to Merkel ASAP. Sarkozy spoke of the “sanctity” of the Franco-German relationship, and the two were all smiles for the cameras, but according to the German press, things got frosty behind closed doors. Sarkozy argued that Merkel’s revised version of the Constitution was simply “a bridge too far” to gain acceptance from all the member states. For the record, Poland and the Czech Republic have already expressed their reluctance to buy into this “new deal.” Instead, he advocated for a more conservative and less controversial approach, one which does not call for the creation of a new super bureaucracy which would manufacture vast quantities of red tape and cost a fortune in the bargain. When Sarkozy left, it might well have dawned on Merkel that she would miss working with the ever-difficult Jacques Chirac.
Meanwhile, knowing Blair’s ability to pitch a product (like his own New Labour in 1997), Tony was given the task of assuring the other players that — whatever else the Declaration might do to create a monolithic government based in Brussels — the EU was going to drop the idea of commissioning the creation of its own flag and anthem. What a relief. But it was Merkel who announced to the press that Tony Blair was calling for a quick affirmative decision on the Declaration at the Summit meeting. Although Germans are dissatisfied with her performance in office on the domestic level, Merkel seems to be a real player in international matters. This is a woman to watch.
If Merkel’s revised draft wins the day, the Declaration of the ‘07 Summit will become a platform for candidates to adopt when the next European Parliament elections are held in 2009. If enough pro-Declaration candidates win seats, it will be easy to win majority votes on enlarging EU powers incrementally and before you know it — voila! — the failed Constitution gets a new identity and a fresh lease on life.
But Blair cannot throw in his lot with Merkel’s Declaration, even if he was so inclined. It was Blair who wanted Britain to chuck the Pound Sterling in favor of the Euro and Gordon Brown who opposed that financial move. At this point, Blair and Brown have apparently agreed that they cannot afford to buy into the entire EU program because this would trigger the need for a referendum by the voters of Britain. Both understand the need for a sweetheart deal that would exempt the UK from complete submission to EU judicial policies and to allow for future constitutional prerogatives. Remember, Gordon Brown has announced that one of his dreams as Prime Minister is to write a modern Constitution for the United Kingdom.
If the Declaration goes forward, it falls to Gordon Brown to deal with the details and sustain all the fallout and this is fraught with problems of all sorts. For a start, Brown does not play well with others. Whenever his counterparts from the treasuries of other European nations were getting together, Exchequer Brown sent a surrogate to the meetings. His ability to lead and inspire his fellow nationals is unknown, although the smart money is betting that Prime Minister Brown is likely to incur their wroth without so much as batting his one good eye.
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