Euro-bashing unites Britain's political foes
Major, Blair revive a dormant campaign issue
In this story:
April 22, 1997
Web posted at: 3:48 p.m. EDT (1948 GMT)
LONDON (CNN) -- Nine days ahead of Britain's general
election, political opponents were in rare agreement against
a common target -- European Commission President Jacques
The united response on Tuesday followed comments made a day
earlier by Santer, head of the 15-nation EU's executive body.
Santer attacked Euro-sceptic "doom merchants" and insisted
that European nations should move towards closer integration.
In a wide-ranging policy speech delivered in Amsterdam on
Monday, Santer included criticism of those intent on
demeaning the European Union's achievements.
He did not specifically target British skeptics, who are not
the only Europeans with misgivings about integration.
But Santer's remarks were immediately interpreted -- by
politicians and the British media -- as interference in
Standing up for British interests in Europe
Prime Minister John Major's Conservative Party and the Labour
Party, headed by Tony Blair, seized the opportunity to try
to outbid each other over who would best stand up for British
interests in Europe. Their moves were an acknowledgement
that both believe EU integration is an important influence on
|Blair attacks Major's EU policies||Major takes issue with Blair's anti-EU stance
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Major seized on Santer's remarks, telling a news conference
he had warned that Britain would face strong pressures to
agree to integrationist moves at the EU summit in Amsterdam
"It is only a Conservative government that can be trusted to
say 'no' to a federal Europe."
-- British Prime Minister John Major
Blair hit back, reiterating his belief that Major was
incapable of representing Britain at the EU negotiating
"Who will best stand up and fight for British interests --
John Major, the man who appointed Jacques Santer ... and who
can't even keep his own party together in the course of an
election campaign?" asked Blair.
"Or me, the person who transformed the Labour Party into the
strongest, most professional, most disciplined fighting force
in British politics?"
Revived campaign issue
Until recently, European unification was generally shunned as
a campaign topic too complicated for voters to follow -- and
one that could lose votes.
Then, Euro-skeptic members of Major's Conservative Party,
divided among themselves over integration with Europe,
started announcing their own policies.
More than 200 candidates and even some government ministers
have said they would vote against British participation.
"Don't bind my hands when I am negotiating," responded Major,
who has adopted a "wait and see" policy in advance of the
Even the minority Liberal Democrats, who expect to win
around a dozen seats on May 1 and who want closer European
links, were upset by Santer's comments. Party leader Paddy
Ashdown said: "I'm not in favor of a European superstate."
What set off Santer?
There was speculation that the European Commission
president's patience had snapped after two developments.
The first was last week's Conservative Party newspaper ad
picturing Tony Blair as German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's
Sources said Santer's Amsterdam speech originally included a
scathing reference to the ad, but that it was removed at the
There were also suggestions he was angered by Labour's
decision to inject a new caution into its language over
European integration to ensure that it is not outflanked by
British polls now suggest that pro-Europe sentiment has lost
Believing their are votes in British fears, political parties
have found ways to simplify and sloganize the Europe issue
until no respectable person can be pro-Europe.
Correspondent Richard Blystone and Reuters contributed to this report.
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