British prime minister presses neo-liberal agenda on EU

British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned on Thursday that the European Union must modernize or risk failure as an economic bloc and as a social model. Setting out an agenda for his country's six-month EU presidency at the European Parliament, which begins July 1, Blair said that Europe needed economic reform urgently if Europe was to grow.

He said Europe's welfare system was outdated and needed to be overhauled. "Investment in knowledge in skills in active labor policies ... in higher education, in urban regeneration in help for small businesses - this is modern social policy, not regulation and job protection," said Blair. He also urged the 25-member bloc to continue expansion, warning that to shut its doors would give rise to new nationalism and xenophobia, reports AP.

The last words were a reply to yesterday’s remark made by the president of the European commission, Mr. Barroso, about the prospects for Turkey gaining membership. Referring to referendums in France and the Netherlands in which voters rejected the European constitution, Mr. Barroso said the European Union could not ignore "the signal that was sent by the electorate regarding Turkey." The Turkey's EU membership is supported by the US administration.

A summit of EU leaders ended in acrimony a week ago, with no agreement on a budget for 2007-2013 and no guarantee that the bloc's first constitution will ever be ratified, writes Associated Press. Other EU nations have blamed Britain for the collapse of the summit, accusing it of unwillingness to accept a compromise that would permit a deal on future funding.

Replying to this criticism, Mr. Blair said today that he was not seeking to scrap EU farm subsidies overnight but to reduce them gradually. "A modern budget for Europe is not one that, 10 years from now, is still spending 40 percent of its money on the Common Agricultural Policy", added the British PM, cited by Reuters.

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