FOR TWO months running, headlines in French newspapers have made depressing reading – for the French. The negative news began with the shock result of the French referendum, when the people rejected not just the proposed EU Constitution but the advice and judgement of their political leaders.
It continued with the failure of President Chirac to persuade Britain to stump up more money to fund French farmers, when talks on the new EU budget collapsed. But the biggest shock of all was their failure to win the prize of the 2012 Olympics, when they were such strong favourites – with the worse news being that London won instead. The prestige of France, and French politicians, has seldom been so low.
The contrast of fortunes between Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair could not be more complete. Blair is the winner of the Olympic race, and much of the credit is ascribed to his personal energy and flair. He is the current Chairman of the G8, the group of the eight richest countries in the world, and has personally set the agenda on such important issues as climate change.
He has been the driving force behind the ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign, and though some may question the merits of giving yet more money to Africa, few can deny Blair the credit for focusing world attention on the challenges for this great continent and the needs of its people.
Finally, the UK currently holds the rotating six month Presidency of the European Council, which means that Blair can briefly enjoy his favourite title of President. He came to address the European Parliament at the end of June, and many MEPs expected him to be given a very rough ride.
He is the Prime Minister of a country seen as semidetached from continental Europe – not part of the Schengen passport free zone, not part of the single currency and no lover of the Common Agricultural Policy. He is also seen as too close to President Bush, and his personal support for the war in Iraq was out of line with the majority view. Yet, he charmed the whole Parliament. Even the French press said that their MEPs had been “seduced” by his remarks.
The Spanish President of the Parliament was effusive in his compliments, saying that in a world crying out for leadership, Blair stood out as the only world leader of stature. Praise indeed!
Given that Blair was widely branded as a very lame duck in May, after the UK General Election, this is a reminder of the First Law of Politics: that political fortunes and reputations can change dramatically and unpredictably.
The French – and the UK Conservatives – each look forward to this Law applying more widely…
From Philip Bushill-Matthews MEP and Conservative Spokesman for Employment and Social Affairs