SPIEGEL Interview with UK Parliamentarian Gisela Stuart "Blair Wants a Radical Reform of the European Union"

The European Union battle between Britain and "Old Europe" is heating up and Tony Blair is calling loudly for a fundamental reform of the 25-member club. UK Labour parliamentarian Gisela Stuart spoke with SPIEGEL about what Blair really wants, an economically flexible Europe and the death of the European constitution.

Gisela Stuart says even if she becomes German chancellor in the autumn, Angela Merkel is no Maggie Thatcher.

Gisela Stuart says even if she becomes German chancellor in the autumn, Angela Merkel is no Maggie Thatcher.


Following the failed EU summit in Brussels, Europe has fallen into a deep depression. Your Labour Party colleague Tony Blair -- because of his refusal to consider giving up the British rebate unless EU agricultural subsidies are radically slashed -- has been particularly singled out for criticism. What was he thinking?

Stuart: Blair wants to achieve something more fundamental than merely reforming EU agricultural policies. He is asking a crucial question: Which problems have to be solved on the European level, and which don't? It is this goal he has in mind when he demands a radical reform of the European Union. And for the realization of this vision, he would also be prepared to increase British payments.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What does this vision look like?

Stuart: I think that many of the leaders in Europe haven't yet understood what the rejections of the (constitution) referenda in France and the Netherlands really mean. There were totally different reasons for the No in the two countries. But at the same time, nobody there wanted Europe to continue on the course it has been following for the past decades. Blair wants a positive idea of Europe. He wants a union that enjoys the trust of the Europeans. And for that, we have to show people what we can do for them: reducing unemployment for example. But when the unemployment rate in some countries has stagnated for years at 10 or 12 percent, it is not surprising that citizens are afraid of the future.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The ratification of the EU constitution has been put on hold. Will Great Britain ever hold a referendum?

Stuart: I don't think so and I think it's a mistake if it's not now admitted that the constitution is dead. Two important countries have said No and a feeling of mistrust will develop if the ratification process is continued anyway.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is a "modern Europe" only a free trade zone as German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has accused Blair of wanting?

Stuart: No. We have always said that Europe is more than that. But it is trade that creates wealth. If we want to implement a new social model, then it only makes sense if the economy provides us with the money to do so.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Great Britain as the model for Europe?

Tony Blair wants a fundamental reform of the European Union.

Tony Blair wants a fundamental reform of the European Union.

Stuart: There are different models of the social state in various countries. And in social matters, every nation should decide for itself which path it wants to pursue. The common market and the granting of political asylum are classical questions which have to be answered by Europe collectively. But please, the laws concerning working hours per week should be left to the discretion of each country.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: At the moment, Donald Rumsfeld's famous division between "old" and "new" Europe is experiencing a renaissance. Is there really such a deep gap between structural conservatives and a market-oriented Europe?

Stuart: There is a split between those who are for an opening of Europe and want to join a globalized world, and the others who say we have to lift the draw bridges to insure that we are properly protected. This last solution won't work.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How do you stand on Turkish membership in the EU?

Stuart: I support the accession of Turkey and am for an open Europe. The negotiations -- however long they may last -- should absolutely begin on Oct. 3. From a perspective of foreign policy, defense policy and strategic reasoning, it is pivotal that this secular Muslim nation be included. In Britain, that is not at all disputed. In addition, we have to make sure we engage in a good neighbor policy with North African nations. For that, we have to invest much more and help them to develop democracies.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: According to the Guardian newspaper, Blair is already counting on Schroeder to lose the autumn elections in Germany to his opponent, Angela Merkel. What would Britain expect of Merkel?

Stuart: The Brits who say that Merkel will be the new Maggie Thatcher know very little about the German political system. The majority rule enjoyed by England alone makes it possible to make more effective and quicker decisions. And with Merkel, no one really knows yet what she plans to do. But, perhaps she will want less state intervention. And that would be sensible.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What happened to the social democratic "Third Way" that Blair once propagated with Schroeder?

Many in Britain are very sceptical of a politically integrated EU.

Many in Britain are very sceptical of a politically integrated EU.

Stuart: Britain has already put the "Third Way" into practice. Blair could only do so because Thatcher preceded him. Helmut Kohl, on the other hand, was no reformer. And that is Schroeder's problem. Perhaps, however, the German government has to find its own "Third Way," as it creates something new from the old model.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: On July 1, Britain will take up the EU presidency. What should we expect?

Stuart: Blair certainly needs more time to realize his vision, but we also have to see how the Germans vote. Everything is, at the moment, terribly unpredictable. That offers an unbelievable chance for the EU to adapt to the times. For 50 years, we have had an unchanged idea of Europe. In May 2004, that idea came to fruition with the inclusion of 10 new nations in the EU. Eight former communist countries were suddenly back in the heart of Europe. There are now plenty of projects for the next century. And for those projects, we urgently need to find answers.

Interview conducted by Lars Langenau


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