How Blair Plans to Resurrect the EU Constitution
By TIM SHIPMAN
Tony Blair was yesterday accused of preparing to usher in a European Constitution by the back door.
He is expected to sign a declaration of intent next month which will pave the way for elements of the constitution, rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands, to be reintroduced.
Senior Cabinet sources last night warned that the Prime Minister is pushing hard for Brussels to be given a full-time unelected president,who would serve a fiveyear term and speak as the voice of Europe on the world stage.
This would end the current arrangement where each country holds the title on a revolving basis for six months at a time.
Whitehall insiders say he is also prepared - without consulting the Cabinet - to endorse full-time defence and foreign ministers for the whole EU, undermining the independence of Britain's foreign and defence policy.
Reforms to strengthen the European Parliament could undermine the ability of member states to opt out of EU laws, as Britain does at present.
Mr Blair is expected to sweeten the pill for voters by pressing France to accept a cut in the £72billion funnelled to farmers through the Common Agriculture Policy - which sucks up around half the total EU budget. Government sources exposed a rift at the heart of the Government over the future of Europe.
Cabinet Ministers, including Gordon Brown, are concerned that Mr Blair will attempt to secure an eye-catching deal on European integration in an attempt to burnish his legacy before he quits Downing Street.
The first step will be taken at a summit in Berlin on March 25. Germany, which holds the EU presidency, wants leaders to sign a document celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome called Declaration on the Future of Europe, which will call for new 'institutional reforms'.
While it will not be legally binding, critics believe that will pave the way for a new watered down treaty, which would bypass the need for a referendum in Britain and other EU nations.
This would be introduced at a Council of Ministers meeting on June 22, in the final weeks of Mr Blair's premiership.
Allies of Mr Brown are concerned that Mr Blair will saddle the more eurosceptic Chancellor with a new treaty and leave him to pick up the pieces when he wins the keys to No 10, probably in July.
A Cabinet source said: 'This has not been discussed by the Cabinet but it is clearly the direction that Blair and many in the Foreign Office want to go. Gordon could be left trying to sell something he doesn't like.'
An insider said: 'This is the European Constitution by the back door.' Europe Minister-Geoff Hoon has been touring European capitals at the rate of a country a week, to find out what other EU states want to do.
Neil O'Brien, director of the eurosceptic think-tank Open Europe, said: 'The meeting on March 25 is all about teeing up an agreement to be finalised at the end of June.
'Things are going to move incredibly quickly after the French presidential election in May and we could have a new treaty before we know it.'
Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague said: 'The constitution was thrown out by the voters of France and the Netherlands and would have been thrown out here if the British people had been given the chance.
'There should be no cunning plans to bring bits and pieces of the constitution through the back door.'
A Downing Street spokesman said: 'The meeting on March 25 is nothing to do with the constitution. It is to celebrate 50 years of the Treaty of Rome. The constitution won't be discussed until after the French election.'