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Maggies Ghost, Blair's Rebate and CAP

6.14.2005

Perhaps I should get out more, but I spent the weekend bombarded with talk of Blair and Chirac locked head to head in a fight for the soul and direction of Europe and other miscellaneous bull. The fact is that this is not nor shall it be a permanent issue. Like all things in the present tense it is treated by the media as a tangent to a curve, continuing indefinitely in the one direction, not the curve which meanders through its existence. Enough maths theory, what I am saying is that history has not reached some climactic point regarding the EU, if anything it seems to be a holding pattern, haunted by the ghosts of EU past and EU future.
The ghost of Maggie Thatcher has stalked Blair’s premiership like a panther. Her ideological and economic legacies have been one of the defining points, ironically, of a labour government. The love of markets and the belief in their primacy come from the first chapter of Thatcherism. As such Blair has never seen much need to distance himself from the Iron lady on the ideological spectrum; however one can get too used to playing a character and unused to being thyne own self. Such a problem now seems to beset Blair in dealing with one of Thatcher’s more awesome achievements-the British Rebate.
We all either know or have little interest in the circumstance and detail surrounding the deal struck by Mags when she hand bagged a load of Euro-Federalists into giving Britain back the money it paid into the EU to subsidise French and Irish farmers. This deal was seen at the time as a modern day appeasement policy. By the time they needed to revoke it, ironballs (as PI has now taken to lovingly calling her) would be out of office. No one reckoned that so long down the line, Thatcher’s ghost would still haunt the thinking of 10 Downing Street in Europe.
So came and went the rejection by French and Dutch voters of the deeply complicated and totally oblique constitution. There have been rumblings since from the Elysee Palace that Jacques has been looking for a scapegoat. He alighted for some reason on the British Rebate, a modern-day totem pole for British Euro-sceptics and now sacred cow for Maggie junior. The Chirac crew are vexed deeply by the fact that the Brits have some piece of concrete Euro-bashing that they can present to the voters when times are hairy while they have a piece of tatty ex socialist nonsense to present to French voters. The rift is clear and the wound deeply cut.
The French have now valiantly strode to the aid of the Netherlands, who have for a long time been carrying the heaviest per capita burden of EU contribution. They have argues that the British Rebate is grossly unfair and the French have miraculously converted to their cause. This is not at all coincidental with the French feeling of security over the CAP which was put to bed as an issue by the 2002 agreement to cap it at 40% of the EU budget by some time in the next decade (!!!!).
So we come to the crux, a match of Real- and Geo- Politick in the fight to save face after bringing Europe to its knees. The British Rebate has become hot diplomatic discussion and the source of much action in an attempt to recover from the losses of France and Holland. This is fog and should be seen as such. The Chirac presidency has no intention of dealing with the social and economic problems that fed into a sense of detachment from Europe which led to a ‘non’. They are instead playing games of national pride with an old and willing sparring partner. The two men are in the twilight of their careers and need some defining moments to add to the history archive.
Of course the major loser in all of this is the CAP reform party. There has never been a better time to reform the greatest tribute to pork barrel politics than now. However the chance to have a genuine and meaningful discussion on the pros and cons of a CAP policy seems to be hostage to the egos of two men in suits. Well for my two cents, I think the case for reform is undeniable. The EU has been the creator of dreadful human misery in the form of dumping in foreign third world markets of subsidy driven over production. The need to rectify our agri policy is clear in the light of so much talk on debt and aid responsibilities before Gleneagles.
This is not so say that all aspects of CAP must be scrapped, there is a clear and present need to encourage sustainable and localised agriculture, this however must be done in a spirit of almost purely Anarchical non-competition. Subsidies which harm other localities need to be eradicated, our farmers must be rewarded for the value they contribute to our society and done so in a manner which encourages others to follow their lead. It’s a fine balance and one which Green thinkers have devoted a lot of time to, for now however it seems likely to become a background figure to the war f ageing legacies.
Red Rover

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