The UK Presidency is putting all its bets on winning a new form of consensus on the future of Europe as it prepares for its summit this week.

Tony Blair's aides are flagging the summit on Thursday as a make-or-break attempt at an indispensable "overall strategic consensus on the future of Europe". Without this, no progress will be possible on the major EU dossiers in the remaining two months of the Presidency, they are suggesting.

But the Presidency's bid for consensus scarcely corresponds to the challenges that currently stand in the way of any meaningful agreement. The summit will not be about the key problem of future financing - nor the British rebate, it admits. Nor will it tackle head-on such burning issues as modernising the social model, agreeing a position in the ongoing world trade talks, or examining what to do with the moribund EU Constitution.

Instead, it will focus, says Downing Street, on vision. "There is no point in trying to decide the detail of a future budget or on how to beat globalisation until there's a strategy", the Presidency contends.

This is a risky tactic, given the strong pressures for immediate action rather than long-term vision - on jobs, on an early deal on the budget, on promoting a successful conclusion to the Doha talks, or on the efficiency of the EU's...

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