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 and environment.


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 concerns.      


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 else!


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.


This is the opportunity facing Britain today. Let us seize it, and offer to lead in Europe, so that Britain is recognised as Great Britain!