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Projecting EU Power

 

Projecting EU Power

Speech given by FCO Minister for Europe, Peter Hain, at the Franco-British Council Seminar, New Connaught Rooms, London, Wednesday 31 October 2001. Source: FCO, London.

We have lost our way in explaining to the people of Europe what it is we are doing in Europe – even what we are trying to achieve.

The very low turnout in the 1999 European elections showed the big gap between the EU and its citizens. The Irish referendum – to ratify the Nice Treaty on enlarging the EU - showed it too: turnout low, answer no. And the message of the anti-campaign – ‘if you don’t know, vote No – should be a salutary warning to everyone.

This doesn’t mean British or French people are anti-European. On the contrary, many are instinctively pro-European (French perhaps more than British) – especially our young. They travel easily between Paris and London. They get by with the language and drink the lager or the Beaujolais Nouveau. But ask them about the Council or the Commission or the Parliament and they don’t want to know. They are not necessarily hostile, more not engaged.

The Need for a Plain Language

So, in talking about Europe, we need plain language, not Eurobabble, understood only by an elite, and virtually unintelligible to the average voter. In short, we need to make Europe easier to understand through its practical effects on everyday life. We should not be fanatical Europeans or sceptical Europeans, but practical Europeans.

Look at what co-operation on the EU level has achieved since the 11 September atrocities. An action plan for:

  • A common definition of terrorism. No more hiding from justice through legal loopholes.
  • A European arrest warrant. No more hiding places for terrorists in Europe and no more hope of avoiding justice through extradition problems.
  • The freezing of assets. No more hiding of funds to pay for murder and no more hiding the evidence that might convict terrorists
  • Intelligence sharing. No more hiding their activities away.

We have also agreed a package of enhanced airline safety measures to protect travellers.

All of these measures taken together will strike at the heart of the terrorists’ ability to operate in Europe. It has:

  • ensured a united and effective boost to the general fight against terrorism in Europe
  • ensured that we can better help tackle the immediate challenge of shutting down Al Qa’ida’s ability to murder and maim
  • united EU Member States in cutting the supply routes, command chains and financing of terrorists.

The EU has already been working to prevent organised criminals and terrorists taking advantage of the opportunities presented by information technology and the openness of global finance. But we must go further. We need to be able to block suspicious capital movements through improved co-operation between our financial authorities. The Commission, the EU’s anti-crime bodies Europol and Eurojust and our national authorities must work more closely together.

All this is a practical outcome of being in the European Union. Without the frameworks for co-operation and mechanisms for action which the EU provides, we would not have been able to achieve such effective action with so many countries in such a short time.

Common Foreign and Security Policy

The days when countries forged single alliances and axes are gone. It is perfectly possible – and we are proving it – to maintain strong bonds with old friends like the US, while participating fully on the European stage. Both are in our long term interests.

The UK and France have a certain amount of enmity in our long history as neighbours. That does not stop us acting together with France bilaterally and within the EU on a whole range of issues. And not just the EU. Britain and France also work together in the UN Security Council, the G8, and NATO.

We were part of the unanimous agreement by the European Council to back tough action against those who struck in New York and Washington. It was a clear signal that the European Common Foreign and Security Policy had taken a major step forward. So was the agreement to co-operate on new European security measures.

All this, coupled with the visits by Louis Michel for the Belgian Presidency and the EU Special Representative Javier Solana to Pakistan and the Middle East, reveals the EU moving out from the era of foreign policy by passing motions at Council meetings, to foreign policy by the projection of EU power. Much the same is evident in the enhanced negotiating role which Solana has been able to secure in the Middle East Peace Process. And in the EU’s contribution to preserving stability in the Balkans - a region in our own back yard where we may be asked to do more in future.

The determination and unity shown by Member States has meant that the EU is now taken much more seriously in Washington. So the horror of the terrorist attacks may turn out to be both an imperative and an opportunity for Europe to assume a greater role on the world stage.

It will also enable a closer alliance between the US and Europe in the future which need not be just one way. The solidarity Europe has shown to the US in its hour of need was given unconditionally and automatically. But it could encourage a greater willingness in Washington – and especially on Capitol Hill - to listen to Europeans on key global issues like the Kyoto Protocol on the environment or the Biological Weapons Convention.

But it is not just on security issues where co-operation in the EU is producing a new, effective response.

Next month, we aim to launch a new trade round through the WTO. Our common history shows the importance of international trade to economic performance. Yes, we want to see progress on investment and competition, and on support for environmental objectives. But we will also push for better market access for developing countries, following the example of the EU’s ‘Everything but arms’ package, as well as offering technical assistance for capacity-building in developing countries. It is striking that agricultural subsidies in the rich world are equivalent to the entire GDP of Sub-Saharan Africa. That is both indefensible and unsustainable.

A Strong Europe

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said on 20 September: ‘A strong, united Europe is good, indeed essential for the United States, for Europe and for the world’. I agree.

But if there is a greater need than ever for a ‘strong Europe’, what does this mean?

The European Union of today is a success. It has helped bring unparalleled peace and prosperity to our countries. It has allowed Europeans to work together to address the common challenges that we all face.

The challenges of the 1950s and 1960s were different. The post-war imperatives of binding European nations together are now unchallenged. The 1970s and 1980s saw the EEC move into the broader economic sphere, taking advantage of unity, building up toward the completion of the most impressive Single Market ever seen. In the 1990s we addressed new challenges and formed the European Union, with its distinctive pillar structure.

The Future of Europe

But what kind of EU do we want for the 21st Century? If we are to sustain the EU's success, we need to be sure that it is in a position to adapt to suit changing circumstances and changing needs. That is why the debate that is underway on the future of Europe is so important.

We should not start this debate with an abstract discussion of philosophy or institutional change. We should go back to basics and ask some fundamental questions. What is the EU for? What do we want it to do? Where can our aims be more effectively achieved by Europe? And where by nation states?

I talk a lot to voters. And I can tell you that the voters of South Wales – and, I suspect, the voters of Franche-Comté - are not much interested in the ins and outs of Qualified Majority Voting, the community method versus intergovernmental approach or a debate about a European constitution.

What they want is a better life. More jobs. Growing prosperity. A clean environment. An end to crime, drug trafficking and illegal immigration. Improved food safety. The practical benefits of being in the EU. There are many issues like this where working together we Europeans can do far more than if we worked apart.

But there are also areas where people doubt whether action at the EU level is the right response to a problem. We need to take a long hard look at who does what in the EU and where the most effective response on each issue is going to come from. Integration has brought us the huge advantages of the Single Market. But there may be areas where ‘less is more’. This should not be a debate guided by emotion or dogma. It should be a debate around a hard-headed assessment of the advantages to my voters, to Pierre’s voters – to ordinary European citizens.

By pooling our clout on world trade or enhancing Europe’s foreign and defence policy capability, we are not diluting the status of the nation states which make up the EU. On the contrary, a stronger and more influential Europe means Britain and France are stronger and more influential individually and collectively. For example, neither of us has lost control over our military activities since Britain and France launched the grand plan for a Common European Defence and Security Policy at St Malo in October 1998.

Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks of a ‘Europe of independent nation states’, while France’s Prime Minister Lionel Jospin speaks of a ‘federation of independent states’. The language may be slightly different, but the concepts are very similar. The EU has more than proved its worth. But we are not in the business of writing the obituary of the nation state. Both the visions of the future of the EU outlined by Lionel Jospin and Tony Blair have nation states at the centre.

And it is not just Lionel Jospin and Tony Blair that think this. The leaders of the 12 Eastern European countries currently negotiating to become Members have also said so.

So, nation states will not disappear. On the contrary, membership of Europe gives them a new – albeit different – lease of life.

For us, Europe is part of the solution not part of the problem. We don’t think Europe is perfect – any more than Westminster, or the Scottish Parliament, or the Welsh Assembly, or local councils are perfect. But we believe in Europe just as we believe in our other democratic tiers of government.

Improving Europe

And we believe Europe could be improved.

  • That is why the Prime Minister has proposed an annual agenda for Europe. What more visible demonstration of accountability than Europe’s elected leaders agreeing together on the issues which the EU should be addressing and prioritising.
  • That is also why we have proposed a Statement of Principles as one of the possibilities of clarifying and explaining to the people who in the EU is responsible for doing what – EU or Member State.
  • And that is why we have also suggested looking at the idea of national parliamentarians sitting in a second chamber of the European Parliament. It could, with the benefit of their voters’ concerns in their minds, review the EU's work to ensure that the EU focuses on what really matters to Europe's citizens.

The French idea of a parliamentary congress for joint meetings between European and national parliaments is not identical. But we certainly share the objective of better national scrutiny of European legislation, more accountability to our citizens and respect for subsidiarity.

Britain and France also agree that the European Council should take the lead more resolutely. Heads of State and Government are the most visible democratic representatives we have. So they, through the European Council, should be determine the agenda for Europe, agreeing our overall strategic objectives for each year.

Conclusion

Both our countries are proudly independent and patriotic. Both of us will continue to be. But by pooling some of our sovereignty economically in the single market, we have both benefited from enhanced prosperity and more jobs. By joining together in a common defence and security policy, we benefit from greater strength and influence in the world.

France and Britain do not have to agree on every detail of EU policy to happily agree on the objective of greater prosperity and security for all our people. The Future of Europe debate must be about recognising where there is common advantage in working together and adapting to meet the challenges. Evolution on the basis of necessity and common consent.

And evolution recognising the huge political achievements of the European Union. Back in 1957, the founding fathers, Monnet and Schuman, would never have dreamt that today we would have a Union of 15, already uniting most of Western, Northern and Southern Europe. Still less would they have imagined that this Union would be on the threshold of embracing the countries of Eastern and Central Europe, reuniting the Continent after the bitter divisions of the Second World War and the Cold War.

The events of 11 September have shown us that there is a need for Europe to meet new challenges. Britain and France are ready to work together to do what is necessary; with each other, with our partners and with the rest of the world to deliver a stronger, richer, safer Europe. A Europe which looks outward rather than inward. Which promotes peace, security and justice the world over.

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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).

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