- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2005

BRUSSELS — British Prime Minister Tony Blair urged European leaders yesterday to heed “a wake-up call” from voters, saying they should not kid themselves it was “business as usual” after the “no” vote to the EU constitution from France and the Netherlands.

In a blunt, at times passionate, 30-minute speech to the European Parliament in Brussels Mr. Blair poured scorn on the EU’s habit of responding to crises with navel-gazing and tinkering with its institutions.

Visitors in the public gallery likened his address to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s 1988 speech in Bruges, Belgium, when she sounded the alarm about a “European superstate exercising a new dominance from Brussels.”

Compared to Mrs. Thatcher’s Bruges oratory, Mr. Blair was much ruder, mocking the EU for issuing empty declarations at times of crisis and hinting that France and Germany should tackle their own economic woes before lecturing him.

He pointed a finger at runaway French and German unemployment, which is more than double that in Britain.

“Some have suggested I want to abandon Europe’s social model. But tell me, what type of social model is it that has 20 million unemployed in Europe?” he asked.

Mr. Blair’s speech received scattered applause, some heckling and long periods of sullen silence from members.

“It is time to give ourselves a reality check — to receive the wake-up call. The people are blowing the trumpets around the city walls. Are we listening?”

Mr. Blair was addressing the parliament as the next holder of the rotating presidency, which falls to Britain on July 1. Describing himself as “a passionate pro-European,” he committed himself to deeper political integration in Europe, saying accusations that he wanted to turn it back into a simple common market were an attempt to stifle vital debate.

That charge was leveled yesterday by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, still seething after last week’s summit that failed to reach a deal on the EU budget.

In a clear reference to Mr. Blair, Mr Schroeder wrote in Bild newspaper that there were unnamed leaders in Europe who had shown in recent days their willingness to “strip out the core of the European Union and reduce it to a kind of free trade zone.”

Mr. Blair retorted: “I believe in Europe as a political project. I believe in Europe with a strong and caring social dimension.

“This is not a time to accuse those who want Europe to change of betraying Europe.”

Some sections of Mrs. Thatcher’s Bruges speech could have been slipped into Mr. Blair’s address and nobody would have blinked.

Both prime ministers urged European leaders not to ignore the voters’ anxieties.

Mrs. Thatcher said back in 1988: “If we cannot reform those Community policies, which are patently wrong or ineffective, and which are rightly causing public disquiet, then we shall not get the public’s support for the Community’s future development.”

Mr. Blair said yesterday: “It is time to recognize that only by change will Europe recover its strength, its relevance, its idealism and therefore its support amongst the people.”

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