» Thursday, February 2, 2006

Europe Speech

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) gave journalists an outline of the Prime Minister’s speech this evening. He said that this speech was a survey of Britain’s relationship with Europe and also what the Prime Minister believed to be the changing dynamic within Europe. A dynamic where Europe was moving away from institution-building and towards a focus on practical issues which were of real concern to the citizens of Europe, be it jobs, security, energy supply, economic competitiveness, migration or other issues. The Prime Minister would say:

"The irony is that after the shock of enlargement, the crisis of the referendums, the opening of accession negotiations with Turkey and the agreement of the budget, with a firm process of reform midway through the next financial term; after all these alarums and excursions, there’s never been a better time to be optimistic in Europe or enthusiastic about Britain’s part in it.

…Europe has emerged from its darkened room. It has a new generation of leaders. A new consensus is forming. Yes, there is still debate to be had, but the argument in favour of an open Europe is winning.

…The reason why – counter-intuitively, given all that has happened recently in Europe – I am now more optimistic about Europe and Britain’s place in it; is that I think the prevailing wisdom of Europe is shifting and fundamentally. Europe is not becoming Euro-sceptic; but it is actively, and increasingly clearly, re-thinking the forward march of European cooperation and how it is best achieved. It is no less pro-Europe. But it has been shocked and jolted into re-examining what to be pro-European means in the times we live.

…The opportunity therefore is for Europe to re-shape a different vision of its future and for Britain to feel comfortable within it."

As people would see when they saw the speech in full, the Prime Minister differentiated between two types of Euro-scepticism, that which is simple anti-foreigner and that which he believed was genuinely concerned about issues such as competitiveness and so on. That was guts of the speech.

Asked about the phrase "a new generation of leaders", the PMOS said that it was a fact that there was a new generation of leaders. It was also a fact that enlargement had introduced into the EU countries from Central and Eastern Europe which were very sympathetic to our view of Europe. They were Atlanticist countries, countries which wanted to see the single market enforced and be open to competitiveness. As the Prime Minister would illustrate in his speech, this was all part of how Europe responded to globalisation and the rise of India and China. Europe had to be global or it would fail, as he would say in his speech. In terms of why Europe had to respond, it was partly because of the gap, revealed by the referendums, between the thinking of the European leadership and the thinking of the people of Europe. It was also largely because of globalisation.

Asked about the "darkened room", the PMOS said that if people cast their minds back to Europe’s perceived position in the aftermath of the two referendum defeats, that was the darkened room. It was a period in which people were predicting dark days for Europe. Moving the clock forward to where we were today, we had had the beginning of accession talks with Turkey, we had agreed the budget, we had a mid-term review process agreed and Europe was beginning to address serious, practical issues such as energy supply, which was what the citizens of Europe had been demanding. He believed the analogy was apt.

Put to him that the Prime Minister had said that a Europe of 25 would be unable to function with the structures put in place for a Europe of 12, and asked if this was an acknowledgment that we were giving up on reform of the structure of the EU, the PMOS said it was not at all. The speech would say that we did have to deal with the practical issues, but the point of the speech was to say that first and foremost the EU had to be seen to deliver for its citizens rather than be consumed by talking about its own institutions. It had to address issues that really mattered to ordinary European people.

Asked if there were any suggestions as to what should be done about the constitution, the PMOS said that this was not a speech about the constitution. It was a speech about how Europe should address the serious, practical issues it faced. In his speech the Prime Minister listed a number of practical ways in which Europe could address some of those issues.

Asked about the issue of energy supply, the PMOS said that people should look at what was discussed at Hampton Court. Prior to Hampton court, if anyone had predicted that these were the kinds of issues which European leaders were going to address, no one would have believed them. Hampton Court had agreed that Europe as a whole should try and develop a common energy policy. Of course France, Germany, ourselves and others were important players in that area, but we had to address this issue from the perspective of Europe as a whole. At Cabinet today there had been a discussion on world-wide energy issues. Energy as an issue was becoming increasingly important, as recent events had shown, and it was important that Europe had a common policy on that issue.

Asked if this amounted to a recognition that European leaders had essentially been talking about the wrong thing for the past decade, the PMOS said that the speech clearly accepted that there was a gap between the priorities of European citizens and what was seen to be the priorities of European leaders. This speech was about reconnecting the EU with its citizens. However it was much more than a simply exercise of finding someone to blame, it was a deep analytical survey of Britain’s relation to Europe and the changing dynamic in Europe and how that has come about.

Briefing took place at 14:00 | Search for related news

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