» Thursday, February 2, 2006

Speech on Europe

Asked what the Prime Minister meant when he said "The vision is the one I share with Europe’s founders: an ever closer union of nation states, cooperating, as of sovereign right, where it is in their interest to do so", the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that this was what the Prime Minister had always said so it should come as no surprise at all. He wanted sovereign states working together and working together for their own and for Europe’s interests, as the two could be the same. This was the position of the Government and it represented no change whatsoever. The main point of the speech, which was counter intuitive to the perceived view that last year had seen a massive reverse, was that the Prime Minister was suggesting, that in addition to the successful accession talks with Turkey and the budget agreement, both big things, you also had the start of a serious effort by Europe to address people’s practical concerns. Those concerns were jobs, economic competiveness, energy and issues such as migration. We had seen the start of that process at Hampton Court. These were not issues that had been top of the agenda a year ago. Now they were. That was partly influenced by the result of the referendums and a recognition that we needed to connect again with people’s real concerns. It was also a result of the enlargement process and the introduction of the central and eastern Europeans.

Asked in the context of the Prime Minister’s comments on ideological sceptics and practical sceptics whether the Prime Minister was a practical sceptic, the PMOS said no. What the Prime Minister was saying was that he understood those who were. In other words those that did not have an anti-European ideology, but those that had practical concerns that Europe was not as competitive as it could be, a Europe that did not yet cooperate properly in areas such as migration. The Prime Minister then went on to say in his speech, "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." That was not the Prime Minister saying he was a Euro-sceptic. He was a pro-European who believed Europe had to address practical concerns and respond to globalisation.

Put to the PMOS that the Prime Minister would not disagree with the description of a practical Euro-sceptic, therefore the Prime Minister was one, as was the Chancellor, the PMOS suggested that had been dropped in very carefully so he would exit very carefully and decline to comment on the Chancellor’s views. He spoke for the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister was saying he was a pro-European, as the Prime Minister himself had said many times before. However, he was a pro-European who wanted to address people’s practical concerns and see Europe deliver in a practical way for people and he believed the last year had seen Europe turn more toward doing that.

Put to the PMOS that the worries about Europe’s economy being uncompetitive, institutions being too remote and decision making at the lowest common denominator suggested the Prime Minister was a practical sceptic, the PMOS said that the key distinction was that he understood why people were sceptical because of those concerns, but he however was not sceptical about Europe’s ability to address those concerns and to do so in a way which reconnected people to Europe, recreated jobs, and addressed competitiveness. The single market was possible because of the way the debate was moving in Europe and it would address, for instance, competitiveness.

Put to him that to suggest Europe was pro-European seemed to go against constitutional polling and other evidence pragmatism, the PMOS said that you also had unabated desire from countries outside Europe to be included. We had also seen the enlargement process with central and eastern Europeans joining Europe. The key point was not whether people had concerns about Europe, but whether people believed you could address those concerns. The Prime Minister was very firmly in the pro-European camp that said yes you could and we would. He was saying in his speech that despite the negativity people associated with last year the actuality was that we were now nearer to addressing those concerns today than we had been this time last year.

Asked for a response to the suggestion that this was, in relation to the section on the single currency and British public opinion, a valedictory speech from a Prime Minister who was admitting he had failed in Europe, the PMOS said he fundamentally disagreed with both points. This was a speech from a Prime Minister who had moved the European debate in the past year with his June speech and with his EU Presidency achievements in terms of Turkey’s accession and the budget, which had provided a foundation to keep pushing forward the debate on Europe. He also wanted, however, for the British public and the British media to realise that we were addressing peoples’ concerns and that we were now in the mainstream of thinking in Europe.

Put to the PMOS that there was no conclusion reached in the single currency section, the PMOS said there was. It was very simple and what the Prime Minister had always stated on the issue, which was that it made sense to have a single market but the economics had to be right for this country. He had always said that and he had said so again on this occasion: the economics had to be right. That had been the bottom line all the way through. Put to him that this was a political cop out, as he did not follow through on the argument, the PMOS said he disagreed. The practical question was whether the economic conditions were right for this country to join and the answer at this moment was no. It had always been the position that there might be a different conclusion if the economic conditions were right in the future.

Asked what the June speech had achieved, the PMOS said it had started the debate about what Europe should be focused on. That debate followed through into the Hampton Court Informal Summit, which set out a programme of work for Europe. For example on how we reached a common position on energy, an issue that was becoming more and more important everyday. It had also set the context in which it was possible to agree a budget and agree a mid-term review process which would look at among other things the future of CAP. As the Prime Minister said in his speech today, one speech did not change Europe overnight, what it did do was set the context in which positive change could happen. This was what was happening now.

Put to him that the Prime Minister had politically altered his position on the single currency, the PMOS said the whole point of the 5 tests was to emphasise that it had to be justified on economic terms. That had not changed. In answer to further questions, the PMOS said the Prime Minister still believed than a Europe of 25 had to be a more streamlined decision-making process that a Europe of 6 or 15. That was the view he had articulated when he had argued for the constitution. However, he also recognised that a Europe that seemed only to be introverted and only interested in issues such as the constitution at what appeared to be at the expense of practical issues such as jobs, competitiveness and energy was not a Europe that people related to. This was why he had said immediately after the results in June that we needed to refocus on those practical issues. There was now a period of reflection about the constitution, but as he said in his speech today if you looked at the majority of opinion in Europe, including the political leadership, Europe was now more focused on the practical issues addressed at Hampton Court.

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

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