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Blair Sees Role for Britain in Europe - 2004-06-15

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday his government will insist Britain does not relinquish sovereignty over economic and social decisions in signing onto the new European Union constitution. The E.U. is meeting in Brussels later this week to iron out the remaining differences over the constitution.

Prime Minister Blair acknowledged that, given his party's poor showing in last week's elections and the resurgence of anti-European sentiment, he will go to Brussels with a strong mandate not to make concessions to Britain's E.U. partners.

But he said pulling out of the European Union, which at least one resurgent British political party demands, is out of the question.

"We obviously have to get the right deal for Britain at the inter-governmental conference this weekend," he said. "That means an agreement that allows Europe to work more effectively but it also means that we maintain our right to determine policy in areas of our vital national interest. We want a Europe that makes Britain stronger and safer and more prosperous but which recognizes our sovereignty in those vital areas like tax and social security, defense, foreign policy, the key areas of criminal procedural law."

Britain's U.K. Independence party, which campaigned on an anti-E.U. platform, received 19 percent of the vote in last week's European elections.

The prime minister says he will negotiate in Brussels for a constitution that will benefit Britain without limiting the country's sovereignty.

"What we will not do is marginalize Britain in Europe simply for the sake of it," he added. "It is in Britain's interest to be at the heart of Europe in terms of jobs and trade and political influence. Whatever the problems and difficulties with Europe, the answer to them is to get our way in Europe, to be prepared to change and reform Europe but it is certainly not renegotiation or withdrawal."

Once the constitution is agreed, Mr. Blair said it would be submitted to a national referendum.