by RAY FLEMING
WHEN Mr Tony Blair returns to his desk, or sofa, at Downing Street more than one-third of the period of Britain's six-month presidency of the European Union will already have passed. The first week of July was taken by the G8 summit and the rest of that month by the London bombings and their aftermath, and now August is almost over. In practice EU presidencies of the second half of the year are usually concluded with a summit meeting of ministers in mid-December, so the available time for Britain to make any major impact is very short indeed. This is especially true of this presidency since the June summit meeting was something of a watershed, marked by serious disagreements over the EU budget, Britain's “rebate” and the Common Agricultural Policy and coming, as it did, so soon after the rejection of the EU constitution by France and Denmark. It seemed, after Mr Blair's challenge to President Chirac over the CAP and the support he received from some of the new EU members that the start of reform and modernisation of the EU might be a realisable objective while Britain was in the president's chair; however, it is unlikely that the necessary momentum has been retained during the past two months. There is one other issue Mr Blair will have to address with some urgency. It was agreed at the June summit that talks on Turkey's future membership of the EU should begin formally on October 3; although the date of Turkey's accession is likely to be ten years away, the importance of starting the process on schedule cannot be overestimated. It is regrettable, therefore, that France has suddenly raised doubts about the wisdom of holding the talks at this time. The probable winner of the impending German election, the Christian Democrat Frau Merkel, is also thought to be opposed to Turkish membership of the EU. Mr Blair is strongly in favour and will want to avoid any snub to Turkey that would turn its public away from the west and towards the east.