BRUSSELS, Belgium – The European Union must reform or risk failure as an economic bloc and social model, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Thursday, responding to EU leaders who blame him for the collapse of their summit last week.
The bloc needs a new blueprint with “urgent” reforms, Blair said, if Europe wants to meet the needs of its citizens and compete with other top economic powerhouses like the United States, China and India.
“If we don’t adapt, our social model is put at risk,” he said.
Setting out an agenda for his country’s six-month EU presidency, Blair described himself to the European Parliament as being passionately in favor of the EU. But he insisted on the need for reform.
“It is not a crisis of political institutions; it is a crisis of political leadership,” Blair said. “It is time to give ourselves a reality check, to receive the wake-up call.”
The EU’s summit ended in acrimony a week ago, with no agreement on a budget for 2007-2013 and no guarantee the bloc’s first constitution will ever be ratified. Several member nations blamed Britain, accusing it of unwillingness to accept a compromise for a deal on future funding.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso had said the EU could sink into paralysis if its 25 members could not agree on future funding and said the responsibility for budget deal now lies with Britain.
Some of Blair’s critics, facing him in the chamber, heckled him when he described himself as a “passionate pro-European.”
“This is not a time to accuse those who want Europe to change of betraying Europe,” Blair said. “It is a time to recognize that only by change will Europe recover its strength, its relevance, its idealism and therefore its support amongst the people. And as ever the people are ahead of the politicians.”
But he won applause when he addressed fears that Britain was interested in changing the EU to a mere free-trade zone.
“I believe in Europe as a political project. I would never accept Europe that was simply an economic market,” he said.