27 June 2007. After three general election wins and ten years at the head of the British government, Tony Blair is handing over power to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. An event long due for this Scotsman, former journalist and key Blair ally since the latter's rise to power. However, in Brussels and other European capitals, a sense of anxiety is beginning to emerge. Whereas his predecessor was widely recognised as being a Europhile, what will Gordon Brown's attitude towards European integration be?
'If European figures are worrying, is it because Brown is not displaying the image of a diplomatic and pro-European politician? On the contrary, he would rather speak than listen. His attitude as finance minister has underlined his distance in terms of the European Union,' notes Richard G. Whitman, an expert from British think tank Chatham House.
And yet before entering government, Brown was considered a fervent defender of European construction. His change of heart is more a result of 'questions of interior policy', according to analyst John Palmer, member of the 'European Policy Centre' think tank. Palmer, a former Brussels correspondent for the centre-left Guardian newspaper, revokes notably the compromise made in 1994 between the two men shortly after the death of John Smith, the then Labour party and opposition leader who never made it to prime minister.
In this 'Granita' guarantee, Blair would take Smith’s place at the party's head, on the condition that he hand the position over to Brown a number of years later. During this time, the latter and co-creator of the party would be charged with managing domestic Britain with the economy. 'So while Blair has taken ten years to leave his post,' explains Palmer, 'Brown as Chancellor has been in a position to frustrate his rival.'
And so, with Blair having become an European enthusiast, Brown has taken the opposing point of view in defending the interests of the United Kingdom: 'he has, for example, done nothing in order to advance the arrival of the Euro.'
It's all a blair
But what position will the future British PM adopt on the burning issues of European integration? Many are already awaiting how he will make his mark on certain subjects. First of all, the constitutional treaty: if Brown has never explicitly expressed his opinion on the text, he is probably not ready to accept the likely modifications accentuating the supranational character of the European Union.
Brown equally intends to make his distance with the Bush administration, 'in the matters which concern Iraq and maybe even Afghanistan,' suggests Palmer. And while judged to be barely diplomatic, the former deputy leader certainly has no intention of making the same mistake as Blair, who has handed the English capitol to the Americans.
However, on other subjects, Brown shares the same viewpoint as his predecessor: both of them are said to be in favour of the entry of Turkey into the European Union, as soon as it satisfies all the membership criteria. Both have said also to be opposed to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which they would like to reform in order to develop other European policies more important in their eyes, such as scientific research, education and infrastructure. For Brown, protectionism, as Brussels have shown with the CAP, is carried out at the expense of the consumer, farmers, environment and poorer countries.
A position that goes a long way to explaining his profound disagreement at the Union’s budget. 'The failure of the budgetary reform prevents the large economic changes which we need in order to face upto the competitive challenges of globalisation,' as he once declared in a speech made in 2005.
Pragmatic EU policy
Should we be worried about Euro-sceptic views associated with Brown? It would seem not: the new PM does not forcibly follow the same policy as the Chancellor of the Exchequer. 'The difference with Blair concerning European policy resides mainly in his style and presentation,' assesses Whitman. 'Brown will remain in the same line as Blair, albeit being more pragmatic.'
To clarify: once at 10 Downing Street, he will not relinquish the opportunity to continuously criticise social policy and the current state of the European economy. It is unlikely that the United Kingdom will adopt the single currency whilst in his term of office. But on other issues which correspond to his own objectives, such as environmental protection or aiding development in Africa, he will expect a strong Europe, and will even hope to make the United Kingdom a leader country.