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EU Sets Summit to Assess Alliance's Future

Tony Blair
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has announced an informal summit of European Union leaders to consider the future direction of the troubled alliance.

The Blair announcement came on the first day of Britain's six-month tenure in control of the European Union's rotating presidency.

The British presidency coincides with a crisis in confidence in the 25-nation alliance, after voters in France and the Netherlands rejected the EU constitution, and EU leaders failed to agree on a budget for coming years.

Mr. Blair says EU leaders will gather in Britain in a few months for an informal summit on what he sees as the core issue facing the bloc: how to sustain economic growth, while maintaining a strong social safety net.

"The most important thing is to try to get people to come together and debate ... how we make sense of the dilemma of Europe today, which is a desire to be a strong competitive economy and a desire to keep in place a strong social dimension, where we are looking after our citizens, making sure people are given proper protection when they are changing their jobs, how we are equipping our people on the basis of justice and fairness and solidarity to be able to face the challenges of today," he said.

The EU has been shaken by the rejection of the constitution by French and Dutch voters, followed by a bitter argument between Britain and France over the EU budget, which gives large subsidies to French farmers and an annual rebate to the British treasury.

There are also differences over future EU expansion. Britain supports EU membership for Turkey, but there is opposition within Germany and France. Negotiations on Turkish membership are set to begin in October.