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Priorities for the Future: The 'Finalité' of Europe


Priorities for the Future: The 'Finalité' of Europe

Source: Foreign & Commonwealth Office. London, November 9, 2000.

Four weeks away from the 'crucial' European Council in Nice, the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, addressed the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French National Assembly on 8 November. Mr Cook first spoke of the strengths that France and Britain both bring to Europe and their common approach on many key European issues, for example the re-weighting of votes within the Council of Ministers. On the preparations for the European Council, the Foreign Secretary said that Britain will be 'working for a success at Nice' and that it is vital the EU sends a 'clear signal to the applicant countries that Europe has the courage, the determination, the strength of will to make the changes that are necessary to prepare for enlargement.' Mr Cook then proceeded to look beyond Nice to the 'eventual shape of the Europe that we are designing.'

Speech given by the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French National Assembly, Paris, Wednesday 8 November 2000.

As some of you will be aware, my Prime Minister, Mr Blair, in his recent speech in Warsaw called for a greater involvement of the national parliaments in European affairs. In particular he floated the idea that perhaps we should think of a second Chamber of the European Parliament composed of representatives from the national parliaments who could, together with the elected European Parliament, debate an annual work programme for the Commission and for the Council and could provide a chamber of scrutiny for the growing intergovernmental area of the European Union such as the new initiatives on security and defence.

He proposed that because we believe there needs to be a way of linking the healthy democracies of our nations into our European institutions, and I hope I give expression to that objective of trying to link the national parliaments more into European affairs by being here and giving evidence and exposing myself to scrutiny of your Committee.

On many issues we have worked hard in the current British government to find common ground and a common approach with the French government. I have an excellent relationship with my good friend, as well as close colleague, Hubert Védrine and between us we carried out the first ever joint visit by a French and British Foreign Minister to Africa, and I believe that the more we explore areas where we can use our united strength together, the more successful we will be in pursuing our foreign policy.

But this afternoon I want to focus particularly on the European issues because I understand those are the issues of immediate concern and you are quite right, Mr President, that we are four weeks away from a crucial European Council meeting.

Anglo-French contribution to European policy

Let me begin by saying that France and Britain both bring strengths to Europe. Sometimes those strengths are similar and where we have common ground we should build on a joint contribution to European policy. That is what we did on the European Security and Defence policy. We began that at St Malo with a joint declaration to try to create a European security identity and capacity. We have together worked to bring that to fruition.

I very much respect the work of the French Presidency over the past six months. In the next two weeks we will see a Capabilities Conference at which we will invite the other nations of Europe, as well as ourselves, to pledge a contribution to a European crisis management security force. Our two countries have military who are flexible, who are mobile, who can be deployed rapidly. What we now must do is work also with the rest of Europe to make sure that Europe can put in the field the capacity to provide the military management of a crisis, of humanitarian intervention or of peace-keeping and if we can secure a successful result, as I believe we can, to that Capabilities Conference, this will be an excellent example of what we can achieve working together.

We are also two of the larger member states of the European Union, we therefore have common interests in some of the amendments and reshaping of the institutions of Europe, particularly on the reweighting of votes within the Council of Ministers. Neither of us is asking for an entirely proportionate weighting of votes within the Council of Ministers, there will always be a bias within the weighting of votes to represent the importance of the sovereignty of member states, but neither of us can accept the current bias against the larger states. If continued through enlargement we could find ourselves in a situation in which France, Britain and Germany together would not even be a blocking minority in the context of a vote on majority voting.

I have heard one or two smaller countries say that this does not really matter and should not worry us because France, Britain and Germany will never agree on the same isolated opposition. But that is to miss the point. It is grotesquely unfair if the majority of the population of Europe cannot even be a blocking minority. At Amsterdam, Britain and France stood solidly together seeking a fairer weighting system in the Council of Ministers, we did not secure it then but we have secured a greater consensus among the larger member states this time and I hope at Nice we can finally put right that wrong.

Working for success at Nice

But it would be wrong for us to approach Nice as a conflict between the large and the small states. All member states of the European Union have the same interest in the effective working of the institutions and clear and effective decision making within Europe. We also all have the same interest in making sure that Europe is ready and prepared to receive the new member states who are so keen to join us.

I have just had a lengthy discussion with Hubert Védrine in preparation for Nice. I have assured him that Britain will be working for a success at Nice. We believe it vital that we send a clear signal to the applicant countries that Europe has the courage, the determination, the strength of will to make the changes that are necessary to prepare for enlargement. And here, Mr President, I do want to stress that I think it is important that we convey to our public that enlargement is of value not just to the applicant countries, it is of value also to the existing member states. We are embarked on the largest ever enlargement of the European Union, an historic enlargement because it will reunite a Europe divided for 50 years between east and west, it will be an enlargement which will make the existing European Union larger and therefore stronger in international affairs, it will give it an even larger single market and therefore a greater opportunity for prosperity, and it will provide for more security and stability among our neighbours within the continent.

I fully understand why many members of our public sometimes are concerned about issues of migration and of organised cross-border crime, but if you want to tackle these issues the best way to do is to embrace the countries of central Europe within the European Union, give them the opportunity to share in our own prosperity and security. We will never tackle these problems on the model of a fortress Europe which keeps them outside our walls. It is therefore in the interests of every country that we make a success of the Nice European Council and I can assure you that Britain will be working to try and find the agreement on which we can reform Europe to be ready for enlargement.

Nice is only four weeks away, but already, quite properly, there is discussion looking beyond Nice to the kind of eventual shape of the Europe that we are designing, what Joschka Fischer has called the finalité of Europe.

Again here I think there is very substantial common ground in the approach of Britain and of France. We are both leading European powers and we are natural partners in that debate. We both understand that the countries of the European Union can achieve more together than they can do alone, that in the modern world we are all interdependent as much as we are independent, if we want better trade in order to promote jobs for our people, if we want a higher quality of our environment to improve the quality of life of our people, if we want to tackle crime to make our society safer for our people, then we can only succeed if we work also through the European Union to respect the cross-border dimension on all of those issues. We need Europe and we will therefore need to develop an ever closer union on those matters which we must tackle together if we are to tackle them successfully.

A 'United Europe of States'

At the same time Britain and France are both proud nation states with a long history. Sometimes in that history we have been on the same side, sometimes we have not been on the same side but we have always shared in that European history. We value the distinct identity of our people and of their separate heritage. We also understand that our people will not trust a government that does not value that distinct identity and culture and for that reason neither of our governments would contemplate an outcome in which that distinct identity of our peoples were submerged in a federal super state. I agree very much with the observation of Hubert Vedrine that it is inconceivable that Germany and France could be reduced to the same relationship as Virginia and Massachusetts. All of us will remain sovereign nations, members of a closer union but a union of member states. As President Chirac has expressed it, we are building a united Europe of states, not a United States of Europe.

That is why in his Warsaw speech Mr Blair set out the case for attempting to define the competences of the European Union and the competences of its member states. I do not pretend that will be an easy task, but I think we should convey to our people what is that end state of Europe, what is the respective balance between the competences of the European Union we need and the competences of the member states which we value and which are at the heart of the healthy democracy of Europe. That debate will run for some time. It is our own view that we should not attempt another conclusion to an intergovernmental conference until enlargement has taken place and the first wave of the new members are with us, because this is a debate which involves them, this is a debate in which they also should be free to express their view.

We also believe that the starting point of that debate must be to ask the people. In the history of the European Union we have never had a systematic drive to consult the peoples of the countries of the European Union on the European Union that they want and the first stage of this process should be to have a debate, not of top politicians or of Foreign Ministers, but a debate that listens to the people and where they want to see Europe go.

As that debate unfolds, Mr President, I am confident that it will reveal much common ground between the peoples of Britain and the peoples of France and I am sure that our governments will be able to work in partnership in taking forward that debate.

French Presidency of the EU 


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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).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).