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Robin Cook's Prospect of Europe in 2010

Robin Cook's Prospect of Europe in 2010

Source: Foreign & Commonwealth Office, London. November 13, 2000. In a keynote speech at the Centre for European Reform on 13 November, Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, set out his vision of Europe in 2010 - a Europe 'with which everyone in this country can be comfortable. A wider Europe. A prosperous Europe. A safer Europe. A stable Europe. And a strong Europe.' This is an exciting vision, Mr Cook added, and Britain will reap the full benefits from it, yet the European debate - whether in the media, Parliament or political debates around the country - is dominated by fear and anxiety. He said he wanted to recast the debate about Europe in Britain and develop a 'positive storyline' based on facts, not myths. The Foreign Secretary went on to say that the Nice European Council is the next important step towards building 'the sort of Europe we want to see by 2010'.

Speech by British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, to Europe 2010 Seminar, Centre for European Reform, Social Market Foundation, London, Monday 13 November 2000.

The sort of Europe I want to see in 2010 is a Europe with which everyone in this country can be comfortable. A wider Europe. A prosperous Europe. A safer Europe. A stable Europe. And a strong Europe.

A wider Europe because by 2010 we shall be well on the way to reuniting Europe. With up to a dozen new member states, the EU will have become the whole of the Continent, from the Arctic to the Mediterranean and from the Black Sea to the Atlantic. The Eurosceptics should reflect on why they want us to get off the bus when so many are queuing to get on.

And the British people need a prosperous Europe. We are already part of the world’s biggest Single Market. Three million British jobs now depend on our trade with the rest of the EU. One million jobs have been created in this country since we joined the Social Chapter in 1997. By 2010 we want more. The economic reform agenda which we developed at Lisbon will turn the EU into the world’s leading knowledge-based economy. We can meet this objective, and create more jobs, by modernising and renewing the European social model which has always valued labour as a resource worth investing in, not just as a factor of production. Higher growth, greater prosperity and more jobs throughout Europe are all in Britain’s national interest.

I am not going to give the journalists their headlines for tomorrow morning by saying now whether I think Britain will be part of the Euro by then. It is astonishing how many acres of newsprint ministers can receive on the Euro by stating the obvious. Our policy is well-known, and we will continue to make the case for British membership. So let me put it this way: If the Euro is successful, if the economic tests have been met following our assessment early in the next Parliament, we will recommend entry to the British people in a referendum. And if the economic case is strong, I believe the British people will support entry.

A safer Europe because that is the best way to build a safer Britain. In 2010 I want a Britain safer from cross-border criminals, terrorists, drug dealers and people traffickers. Crime knows no boundaries and the fight against crime should know no boundaries. That is why we are already working with our neighbours in the EU to make Europe an area of freedom, security and justice. The more countries of Europe join the EU, the safer we will be. British people want to know that there is no hiding place for criminals or the proceeds of their crimes anywhere in Europe.

And I want to see a Europe of strength in the world. It is a delusion to imagine that Britain is stronger if it is isolated. The best way to project British values and British interests is by doing so in partnership with those who share our values: democracy, human rights, justice and freedom.

The British people gain because Britain and the rest of Europe speak with a single voice in international negotiations on trade and the environment. In the WTO, Britain on its own would be a significant influence, but our message and interests might be drowned out among competing European voices. By pooling our interests with those of our European partners, we are transformed into one of the two key actors in global trade negotiations. The same is true in the environment, where the EU is a model for the world of how to combine prosperity and opportunity with a healthy environment, and, because of that, an increasingly powerful voice in global environmental debates. Britain’s voice will be heard more clearly in the world because our interests are backed by a Union of 15 or 25 countries which share our outlook.

And each of these countries will be a member of a Europe of stability. The European Security Initiative reinforces our ability to respond to crises where NATO is not engaged. By 2010 we could see a joint EU operation bringing order in place of instability, safeguarding Britain’s national interests and enhancing respect for Britain’s military skills.

The European debate in Britain

This prospect of Europe in 2010 is an exciting vision. And Britain will reap the full benefits – security, prosperity and strength. Which makes it hard to fathom why so much of the discussion about Europe here – whether in the media, Parliament or political debates around the country – is dominated by fear and anxiety, not excitement.

What sort of EU do parts of the British media foresee in 2010? An EU in which jackbooted Eurocops roam the streets of Britain, arresting anyone eating bent bananas or drinking beer in pints. A Europe where lollipop ladies are harmonised, where darts are banned from British pubs and where rubber ducks are banned from the great British bathtub. All of which, and more, have passed recently through the pages of our press.

Euromyths provide great fun for journalists. The media has a mission to entertain. And some of them rise magnificently to that goal. But they are failing in their other mission – to inform. That is the conclusion we must draw from a recent Eurobarometer survey which showed that just two per cent of the British people believe what they hear about Europe in the media. Those of us who want the public to have a proper understanding of the benefits we derive from our membership of the EU have a strong interest in turning the tide of EU reporting. From now on the Government will be rebutting all such stories vigorously and promptly. You will be hearing the catchphrase ‘Facts, not Myths’, until that is the way the EU is reported.

Turning the tide of the national debate about Europe is about more than correcting error. We need to develop a positive storyline about Europe. This is not something the Government can or should be doing on its own. There are many national publications, and many journalists working for them, who do not share the ideological Euroscepticism of the Daily Mail. But, with the exception of the Financial Times, no newspaper in this country has a consistently objective narrative about Europe.

The biggest Euromyth of all is the myth of the superstate. There will not be a superstate because the British people would never allow it. And neither would the French people, the German people, the Italian people or the people of Poland, Hungary, Latvia or the other countries now queuing up to join the EU because they know it will make them stronger.

Last week Romano Prodi made an important speech in this country, in which he exploded the myth of the European superstate, and stressed the primacy of national identities in Europe. He praised what Tony Blair had said about the future of Europe last month in Warsaw. But how was he reported the following morning? ‘Britain rejected calls yesterday from Romano Prodi to abandon its veto on key areas of policy.’

Note how this opening line presents President Prodi’s speech, in which he agreed with the British Prime Minister, as a challenge to the Prime Minister. Note how Britain is being portrayed on the defensive – rejecting pressure on it from Europe. Note how it is assumed that any reduction in unanimous decision making is a threat to the British national interest. And note also that this intro is not culled from the Daily Mail, where it belongs, but from The Guardian.

How can we hope to convince the public of the case for Europe, if even those papers who profess to support Europe, consistently present it to their readers as a threat?

We need the sensible, mainstream press to stop dancing to the Eurosceptic tune. The pro-European papers should be saying why they believe our place is in Europe, not why others believe our place is outside. Those who believe Britain’s interests are best served by strengthening our influence in Europe should come out of the closet. They have nothing to be ashamed of. Pro-Europeanism is a respectable cause. It has a distinguished history in British political thought, and contains a more reasoned vision of the future than the isolationism which would betray our national interests.

It is patriotism, it is national self-interest, to argue for Britain’s full engagement as a leading partner in Europe. It is a betrayal of our nation and our future constantly to obstruct every fresh opportunity for cooperation in Europe. On Thursday, I shall be expanding the long-term positive case for engagement in Europe and the British principles which underpin it. But before we get to the horizon we must first traverse the foreground. Today I want to present the good news story that an objective press should be preparing to report from Nice next month.

Nice

Many of them are already tipping their pens with doom and fear. But we should be looking forward to Nice with positive anticipation. It is the next important step towards building the sort of Europe we want to see by 2010.

The Nice Summit is good news because it will produce two things Britain supports: Reform and Enlargement. Nice is about clearing the way for the accession of the first new member states. It is about reuniting Europe and releasing the benefits of prosperity, stability and strength for Europe’s new democracies in the East. But admitting them to the EU is not just an exercise in altruism. Britain is a champion of EU enlargement also because of a hard-headed calculation of the benefits it will bring to the British people. More allies in the fight against our joint enemies – cross-border crime, pollution, drugs, poverty and unemployment. More jobs because our companies will be operating in a domestic Single Market of half a billion consumers. More clout in an increasingly multilateral and globalised world because a whole continent will be batting for our interests.

The Nice Summit is good news because it will reinforce the place of human rights in our political culture. The Charter of Rights will be a political declaration, not a binding document. It will set down, for the first time in one place, the rights to which the EU’s residents are already entitled. The political rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, and the economic and social rights contained in the EU Treaties and the member states’ own national laws and practices.

The Eurosceptics don’t like the Charter. What is it they so dislike? The Charter will help people know their rights. Who could object to that? It will guide the EU institutions on what they need to do to respect those rights. Surely that can’t be the problem. It won’t damage business – the CBI have welcomed it. Nor will it become legally binding unless we agree. I can only conclude that those who dislike the Charter dislike the rights within it – the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty, the right to dignity, the right to freedom of expression. Only in the perverse logic of Euroscepticism could rights be considered a threat to Britain and the interests of the British people.

The Nice Summit is good news because it will make Britain stronger. Our negotiating objective is to get more votes in the Council of Ministers and increase our relative weight for the first time since we joined in 1973. Nice will make sure Britain’s influence is felt still more strongly in a wider Europe.

The Nice Summit is good news because it means we can go on building an EU which works for us. Some in Britain think we should have a veto on everything. But they forget that if we have a veto, so does everyone else. I don’t want everyone to have a veto on our initiatives. In the last two years there were 85 votes on QMV in the Council. Britain was outvoted just five times. We have been rather successful in making majority voting work for Britain’s interests.

That means there were 80 occasions when other countries could have used a veto to stop outcomes we wanted. Measures like the e-commerce rule which several countries opposed but which we got through in the interests of British business. Or the right of British chocolate makers to sell their products throughout the EU. And a ban on driftnets which has saved countless dolphins and turtles from death was passed under our Presidency despite opposition from three other countries.

We are supporting more QMV at Nice where it will make the EU work better in our interests. We don’t want countries to be able to veto improvements to the way the European Court of Justice speeds up its work, or to veto much-needed reforms to streamline the Commission’s accounting procedures. But we will retain consensus in areas which are essential to our national identity like tax, social security, border controls, defence or treaty amendment.

The future of Europe

That does not mean Nice is the last word on the EU’s institutional shape. There is still a democratic deficit in the institutions. Paradoxically, this is partly because of the very strength and vigour of the national democracies which make up the EU. The parliaments and governments of the nation states are where the will of the people finds its most expressive voice. If we want to find ways of making sure that Europe’s priorities in 2010 are the people’s priorities, we can do so by leveraging the strength of Europe’s national democracies for our collective interests.

Tony Blair, in his speech last month in Warsaw, floated some ways of doing this. Representatives of national parliaments could sit in a second chamber of the European Parliament. This chamber would harness the strength of Europe’s national democracies. It would not legislate, but preserve the balance between what the Union does and what the member states do.

Conclusion

Britain has always been an outward-looking nation. It would be extraordinary if we were now to allow isolationists to throw the opportunity of Europe away. I want to re-cast the debate about Europe in this country. A debate based on facts, not myths. I want to bury the myth of a superstate – national identities are too strong. I want to bury the myth that Brussels is Them. Brussels is us.

I want to bury the myth that Britain can only win when Europe loses, or vice versa. In the EU we can all be winners.

It is a delusion of the Eurosceptics that a stronger Europe necessarily means a weaker Britain. On the contrary the stronger Europe is in the world the stronger will be Britain. A weak Europe means a weak Britain.

Where Britain will be in 2010 depends on who wins the debate on Europe today. If the debate is won by the Eurosceptics, 2010 will find Britain isolated and weaker. A Britain at best marginalised in the key decisions of its neighbours. A Britain at worst outside the biggest trading bloc in the world.

If the debate is won by those who believe in Britain in Europe, 2010 will find a more confident Britain. A Britain playing a leading part in the world’s largest union of nation states, delivering the economic opportunity, the clean environment, the safe streets, and the regional peace that the British people want.

Those are the alternative futures for Britain that hang on the present European debate. I know which future I want for Britain. And I know that many in the press want that future too. It is time that all of us who share that vision of our future made sure that the British people can hear the positive reasons why they should choose a stronger Britain in a wider Europe.

 

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
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