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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blair Is Best Hope for Ending EU Bickering

European leaders did the right thing at their summit meeting in Brussels when they put their ill-fated constitution aside for a period of debate and reflection. There was no point pretending that it was business as usual after the drubbing the charter got in France and the Netherlands. It's too bad that the European Union leaders then promptly descended into a tawdry dispute over the next budget.

Squabbling over budget figures is hardly recommended during a full-scale identity crisis, and the current budget is good through the end of 2006.

But instead of focusing on the big picture, France's Jacques Chirac and Britain's Tony Blair chose to revive a perennial dispute over budget rebates to Britain. While the issue is real, there are far bigger issues that need to be discussed. Instead of squabbling about the budget, the leaders should have been talking about, for one thing, the huge amount the EU spends on agricultural subsidies.

This is a serious issue, especially when it is African farmers who end up paying because they are priced out of competition in European markets.

EU leaders also need to decide whether the union should pursue an economically liberal or a "social" economic model. And there is a strong and growing resistance to any more members, especially Turkey.

These are all issues that beg for committed and courageous leadership, but that is where the EU has its greatest deficit.

Of the major leaders, Germany's Gerhard Schr?der may be ousted in September by Angela Merkel, a conservative from eastern Germany. Many of Chirac's countrymen are looking beyond him, some to the bright and aggressive Nicolas Sarkozy. And Jose Manuel Barroso, the new president of the European Commission, has not yet demonstrated much authority.

Next month, Britain and Blair will take over the European Union's rotating presidency. Though the EU is not greatly loved in Britain, Blair is a strong advocate of continuing its expansion and of liberalizing its economies, and he has made an admirable push for greater aid for Africa at the upcoming G8 meeting.

Blair is also one of the more secure and dynamic of current European leaders.

Let us hope that during his six months at the helm, he succeeds in setting Europe's eyes beyond divisive squabbles, and starts a critically needed debate on where the European Union is headed.

This comment originally appeared as an editorial in The New York Times.