Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Future of Europe

Via new blog Escalate, I'm pointed towards a speech given last week on the future of the European Union. Given by
a firm believer that Britain's place is in the European Union ... someone who wants the European Union to succeed
it contains much that I agree with completely. I have some reservations, some disagreements, but overall, it's a very positive approach that identifies the key failings of Blair's EU policy and also sets a strong direction for where to go next. Some highlights:

On the future of "ever closer union"

Europe is at a crisis point. The assumptions of the last fifty years no longer hold true. Where once the priority for Europe was political harmony it must now be economic dynamism, and here ... Britain is well placed to lead and challenge some orthodoxies of recent decades that are now so clearly failing. We must replace the habits of heavy regulation and rigidity with freedom and flexibility. The attempt to create an ever more politically united Europe was a response to the problems of the twentieth century. Now it is time to advocate a Europe of decentralisation and diversity in the spirit of the twenty first century.

On Blair's failure

In 2000 Tony Blair said that Europe did not need a Constitution. In 2002 he said: 'we do need a proper Constitution for Europe'. By 2003 Peter Hain was saying it was just a 'tidying up exercise', and not important enough for a referendum. But later that year Tony Blair said that holding a referendum would be 'a gross and irresponsible betrayal of the true British national interest' – in other words it was too important. Despite that he was soon in favour of exactly such a referendum - 'to resolve once and for all' where Britain stood in Europe, but the French voted no. This vital mission went the way of every previous statement on this subject. Seven different policies in five years, and all of them based on evasion rather than vision.

I fear this Labour Government is going to repeat the mistake it made when the Constitution first appeared on the agenda. It has no vision for the EU. It therefore reacts rather than proposes

On Britain in the EU

I am a firm believer that Britain's place is in the European Union, a strong player in Europe, not at the margins. But that does not mean that we should abandon our critical faculties in examining the EU's predicament.

We need a realistic assessment of the EU's successes and failures to decide what the EU needs to do more of and what it should stop doing.

On Enlargement

It cannot be doubted that the EU has been a major force in securing democracy and the rule of law in many countries that were new to those freedoms. We have seen the EU's effectiveness in the last quarter century in the Mediterranean, we have seen it in the new members from central and eastern Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall and we see it now in the Balkans and Turkey. Enlargement has been a triumphant success.

EU membership is a sign that you are a decent, trustworthy member of international society ... to those whose countries in the past have been regarded as corrupt or unstable it is a great goal to pursue. There is also the promise of comparative wealth – the EU requires a functioning market economy – and of new freedoms and opportunities to travel and find work.

These are powerful incentives to change one's country so that it can join the EU ... We want to see that part of the world stable, democratic, rich and peaceful. We know that offering EU membership is the best incentive to persuade countries to make the hard political decisions that mark the road to that end.

On the Single Market

The other area where the European Union has had some conspicuous success is the Single Market. The success can be described in figures - it is widely accepted that the Single Market makes a contribution to the EU's GDP of 1.8 per cent a year, worth £20 billion annually to Britain and an average increase of wealth in a European household of £3,800. But it can also be described in terms of the real difference it makes to people's lives: whether it is cheaper telephone calls, internet connections and air travel or the ability to work and travel freely across Europe. These achievements are worth cherishing and people's lives are better for them.

On 'economic patriotism'

There is talk of 'economic patriotism' and 'national champions'. We do not stop our partners' companies taking over their British counterparts, and we benefit from the infusion of investment and expertise. Yet there is too little reciprocity. The Services directive too, which could have done so much to enrich Europe's economies and make life easier for people and businesses, is only making it through in an anaemic form.

On economic decline

Europe is in the grip of a slow burning crisis. Many of Europe's economies are performing poorly and the continent is in relative economic decline ... The Lisbon agenda ... was supposed to be the answer. At the time the Prime Minister proclaims a 'sea change in European economic thinking', marked, he said by 'concrete measures with clear deadlines'. It was yet another bold Blair assertion that does not correspond in any way with any observable reality. Romano Prodi described the Lisbon agenda as a 'big failure'. He was right.

On the priorities for the future

With the right priorities the European Union can open up freedom and opportunity for our citizens, a mutual support in the age of globalisation ... This also applies to the development of the EU's structures. We need to recognise that Member States have a variety of ambitions in the European Union, political and economic. In Britain and some other countries we want the EU to do a great deal less. Others, like the Dutch, want the EU to do less in some areas and more in others while those like the Belgians see a need only for increases in the EU's power.

On the failure of the Constitution

One can argue that the French vote was in part a protest against that country's current domestic ills and a register of a fear of economic liberalisation, but the Dutch vote was a clear rejection of an EU that is too powerful, too unaccountable and too wasteful of European taxpayers' money.

Regrettably, I do not see a widespread recognition of that fact in the current debate.

On relevence

The old rigid model is out of date. The European Union must make itself relevant by giving its peoples the freedom and flexibility they need in the twenty first century.

Europe's crisis demands more than paralysis from the British Government. It requires fresh thinking and a reinvigorated approach. If the party in power is not capable of providing that it is yet another reason for a change of government.
Like I said, I disagree with some of the content (on that, a follow up post when I've time to think it through) but, overall, a very nice, constructive speech from someone who obviously both knows what they're talking about and is staking a claim as a pro-European. So, what's the problem?

William Hague. Can it possibly be true? Have the Tories really woken up and decided to make a positive case for a reformed, decentralised EU? Has Mr "24 hours to save the pound" Hague finally decided to try and win the case for membership domestically and for reform at Brussels? Looks like it.

Mr Morningstar sir? About that central heating contract...


Anonymous said...

An interesting first step in the Tories U-Turn on Europe, but I'm not convinced that if you read the sub-text Hague is saying much more than right-wing Labour about all of this. When he talks about the need for reassert nationalcontol over employment legislation to enable Britain to have a 'flexible workforce'... what he is really saying is he wants the employers to have the liberty to screw workers without all that unnecessary employment protection getting in the way. He also cowers away from the issue of EU democratisation and accountability by talking about national parliaments are the bodies that people look to for accountability. Well, that's increasingly less true. In the same way that local government engenders increasing levels of apathy as powers are centralised in Westmister (why bother to vote for you the people tell us) national elections become less important as the EU inreases its powers. Where is the discussion abour EU democracy. Electing those who can introduce legislation, making the ECB accountable and transparent, electing the President of the Commission... how about it? Those would be radical proposals to move the debate forward, not just another Tory moving closer to the Blair/Brown agenda. 

Posted by Bob Piper

Anonymous said...

Like I said, many points of disagreement as well as agreement, I found the speech text late last night and thought I'd highlight all those positive "we like the EU" points as that sort of thing is unusual froma senior politician these days, the antis are winning by default... 

Posted by MatGB