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Monday, November 20, 2006

Balls to the euro

People have said for a long time that Brown would look for ways to reposition Labour on Europe, and even for ways to outflank the Tories.

There are a couple of straws in the wind this weekend. The Guardian this morning has Ed Balls' speech to the Institute of Chartered Accountants today, in which he will say that the EU's failure to sign get its accounts signed off for twelve years is a "dissapointment" and an "annual embarassment." He'll argue that: "By giving national parliaments greater opportunity to scrutinise how EU funds are managed I believe we can help give taxpayers the reassurances they rightly expect".
Mr Balls will tell MPs that in future parliament will be given an annual statement on all EU budget spending within the UK, which will be checked by the National Audit Office. He will use tomorrow's debate in Brussels on the 2007 budget to urge other member states to follow suit, arguing that they should show they can account properly for how money is spent and strengthen their controls against fraud. The Netherlands and Denmark are understood to be considering similar plans.
The Treasury have also been briefing that 'Gordon hasn't got enough credit for stopping us joining the euro' for a while. In Scotland on Sunday Brown's people up the ante a bit by (sort of) hinting that he would never join the euro:
"Gordon has made it clear, repeatedly, that this will be decided on the economics," a Treasury source said last night. "He has always harboured doubts over whether the time would ever be right to enter. This was last looked at three years ago and I don't see us getting any closer now. I think Gordon's going to be happy to kick this way past the long grass for as long as he's around."
This is all interesting stuff - but hardly revolutionary so far. Maybe the most interesting thing about Brown's positioning is that having marched himself up the hill as a sceptic, he will be in a very different dynamic to Blair when negotiating in Brussels.

When Blair was defeated on a particular issue it was easier for him to get some kind of face saving-agreement and then go out and sell it as if it were his own idea. He was happy (at least while high in the polls) to position himself as our "most pro-European PM ever", and to cover up the extent to which the UK was outvoted.

If Brown is going to position himself as a sceptic, things will be very different. In broad terms 'standing up to' the EU more will take him closer to the average voter. But on the other hand it means that there are no excuses if things go wrong. That's when we will know which way he is really going to jump.

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