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Financial Times: Blair calls for louder business voice in Europe

By Jean Eaglesham, Chief Political Correspondent
Published: May 22 2007 03:00 | Last updated: May 22 2007 03:00

Business is failing to lobby effectively for open markets and economic reform in Europe, Tony Blair told a summit of industry leaders from across the continent yesterday.

The prime minister said the election of Nicolas Sarkozy as French president and Angela Merkel as German chancellor meant there was now “every possibility” of achieving economic change in the European Union. He stressed he was very confident that Gordon Brown would continue the UK’s pro-reform stance. But Mr Blair called for stronger support from employers, warning it was very hard to overcome “some of these sectional interests” pushing a protectionist agenda.

“Business in Europe does not make its voice heard vigorously or often enough,” Mr Blair said. “It’s important that business steps forward and gives a clear statement on where it thinks [Europe] should be going.”

His comments came during a wide-ranging one-hour breakfast seminar with the European Round Table of Industrialists. The 45 assembled business leaders – all male – included Sir John Rose of Rolls-Royce, Leif Johansson of AB Volvo, Jeroen van der Veer of Royal Dutch Shell, Antony Burgmans of Unilever and Jorma Ollila of Nokia.

In a question-and-answer session in the Pillared Room at Number 10, Mr Blair highlighted the difficultyof achieving the “major change” in the public sector needed throughout Europe. “It’s important not to have policies in public services simply dictated by public service unions,” he said.

Predicting the reaction of a postwar leader parachuted forward in time from 1947 to 2007, the prime minister forecast: “They would be shocked at the amount of change in society, in business . . . but they would be reasonably familiar with government. One of the things that’s really difficult for us is to rejuvenate the way that the state processes work.”

Turning to international agreements, Mr Blair warned time was running out to save the Doha round of trade talks. “If we do not get this done – the headline agreement – in the next two to three weeks, then I think it will be very hard to see how we will get a deal,” he said. He forecast that if the talks failed, “the impact will be bigger than people think,” dealing a blow to multilateralism and signalling a rise in protectionism.

On climate change, the UK still believes it was “possible” an international agreement will be secured at next month’s G8 summit of world leaders. His talks with President George W. Bush last week suggested the US was adopting a less hostile stance. Mr Blair said: “There is a change of mood in America . . . the [Bush] administration is thinking about the issue more profoundly than it has done in the last few years.”

Asked about the relationship between Russia and Europe, Mr Blair said: “The important thing to say to Russia, calmly but clearly, is that if our relationship is to prosper, it can only be on the basis of shared values and shared principles.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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