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Friday, May 25, 2007

fancy footwork

Jonathan Freedland has an interesting piece in the New Statesman on Brown's foreign policy.

On Europe, we have had several glimpses of the shape of things to come. Brown's impatience at finance ministers' meetings, and his derailment of British membership of the euro, suggest a sceptic. He loathes the Common Agricultural Policy, a piece of protectionism that cannot be defended in an era of global free trade. With the French and the Germans now talking of resuscitating the corpse of an EU constitution, reclothing it as a treaty, a collision seems likely. Brown would not want to rouse the ire of the Eurosceptic press by driving such a treaty through parliament; but nor could he risk submitting it to a referendum that he could lose. Expect some trademark footwork to get this booted into the long

All very well - but does Brown really have the guts to crash the talks? In one sense it wouldn't be too hard. The Czechs and Poles are having constant high level President-to-President dinners, and seem to be more serious about the voting weights issue than a lot of people realise. However, without some kind of big country ally, both will probably fold in return for concessions. Blair will leave them to twist in the wind, but there is certainly an opportunity for Brown to hold up the talks... if it's not too late when he takes over.

Still, it seems more likely that Brown wil go with Plan "A" - sign up to a mini-constitution then downplay it. He isn't a eurosceptic - though he is less keen to make political sacrifices for Europe than Blair was.

Where Brown would like to set a lead, rather than just react, is on the aid and trade agenda he has made his own (his only beef with the Make Poverty History campaign is that he thinks it should be pushing governments, including his, harder), and also on climate change. He wants to outmanoeuvre the Tories on this territory not by matching David Cameron wind turbine for wind turbine, but by coming up with the kind of large-scale breakthrough that would make Cameron look like a lightweight. He speaks of plans for the reforestation of the Congo, of recasting the beleaguered World Bank as a new Environment Bank, of establishing a carbon market in London. This is the level he wants to operate on; he'll leave the organic broccoli to Cameron.

Also interesting - but how is he going to get a "real breakthrough" on trade without some kind of fight in Europe? He will be up against Sarko - who seems to have an even more aggressive stance on the CAP than Chirac.

The two things are certainly linked - the FCO will be telling Brown that he won't get anywhere on trade etc... unless he plays nice on the mini-constitution. We think that approach has been tested to destruction - but has Gordon learned that lesson?

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