Opportunity in Europe Jan 02
The United Kingdom has
enjoyed a parliamentary democracy with a stable and popular monarchy for
300 years. Many of our European Member States, especially the smaller
nations, witnessed revolutions, civil war, rejection of their monarchy,
dictatorial rule and finally occupation by Germany in World War II. Ethnic
cleansing and religious discrimination led to massive migration of people
within Europe. New national boundaries, new constitutions and new
currencies were imposed in Europe by international mediation. Political
instability, social insecurity and economic depression right across Europe
precipitated much hardship for its citizens.
How could these European countries, in turmoil, deliver security,
peace and prosperity to their people? How could they establish mutual
trust, goodwill and beneficial trade?
In May 1956, six countries – Germany, France, Italy, Belgium,
Netherlands and Luxembourg - convened a Conference in Venice to which
Britain was invited to attend. Britain did not
attend – the six founding countries took only an hour and a half to
reach agreement to establish the European Common Market - the nucleus of
what is today’s European Union of 15 Member States.
That invitation to Britain, in 1956, was a great opportunity - an
opportunity for Britain to be an influential Member of the European Common
Market – an opportunity to lead it from strength - an opportunity to
shape the economy and politics of a democratic and liberal Europe!
Sadly, we missed that opportunity because, we thought that it would
not happen; it could not
work even if it did happen; it could not
affect us and because we thought that we did not
need it even if it succeeded! How wrong we were!
The Treaty of Rome established the European Common Market blueprint
based on bureaucracy, extensive social legislation and enterprise burdened
by state control. Despite such weaknesses in the Treaty, multinational
co-operation facilitated peace, democracy and economic prosperity.
Relations between these countries, especially France and Germany, improved
substantially. Politically they were more confident and assertive in
dealing with Britain. De Gaulle even vetoed our first application to join.
Twenty years later, in the mid seventies, Britain realised the
significance of its missed opportunity. We acknowledged that our stable
history and heritage could not guarantee continued influence or prosperity
without active engagement with the European economies.
We joined the European Common Market with hesitation and
reservations. We joined an institution that had set its rules some 20
years earlier! We did manage to change some of these rules as a condition
of our membership. Since then, we have changed many more rules to suit us.
Why is Britain’s future inextricably linked with Europe? The EU
is dynamic; it has grown from six to fifteen Member States today; it will
have another ten new countries as Members over the next decade. The EU
affects us directly; 60% of our trade is with Europe; our Membership and
free access to the EU is crucial for continued foreign inward investment
in the UK. Our Membership allows us to influence and promote an open
competitive market for goods, financial services and labour. It allows us
to engage in formulation of legislation impacting on our trade, industry
Therefore, we must use our strength and influence within the EU to
make its institutions more effective, transparent and accountable. We must
push, with confidence and courage, reform of the CAP; liberalisation of
the financial services; privatisation of production and distribution of
gas and electricity; develop more flexible labour markets and improve
training and education, especially in Information Technology.
The EU is ready for such changes - changes that Britain has
experience in implementing in the Thatcher years - changes that will
create jobs and prosperity across Europe.
Whilst most of us are happy to encourage EU co-operation for mutual
benefit, many of our older citizens are concerned about loss of national
sovereignty with respect to the adoption of the Euro and the extension of
qualified majority voting in specific areas of policy. I respect these
For me, sovereignty is a country’s ability to maximise its
national strength based on a successful economy (business & trade),
strong defence and influence in international foreign policy. Sovereignty
deployed for national advantage, delivers jobs, peace and prosperity –
sovereignty in a shrinking sphere of influence, feeds pride and little
Whilst Britain does share sovereignty in some decisions in the EU
it retains national control over taxation, immigration, its national
frontiers, defence and foreign policy.
The British people will decide in a national referendum if
and when they wish to adopt the Euro. Therefore, in this respect,
British sovereignty will be determined by the will of the people.
Our sovereignty is in our hands and it is equal to the sovereignty
of every nation with its own identity, culture, language and tradition.
Such sovereignty is not
negotiable and cannot be eroded by a supra-national European State.
Britain must lead a Europe
of nation states proud of their cultural diversity - a Europe that is
accountable to its people - a Europe that is economically vibrant - a
Europe that will deliver security, peace and prosperity for all.
is the opportunity facing Britain today. Let us seize
it, and offer to lead in Europe, so that Britain is recognised as Great