Friday 3 November 2006
Speaking in Hull today (3 Nov) former Europe Minister, Denis MacShane, says that he was confident that a Gordon Brown government would maintain the UK’s full engagement in the European Union. Recent statements by ministers, including those close to the Chancellor show a stepped-up commitment to Europe. Previously divisive issues like the Euro and the Constitution were no longer on the agenda. Instead, the next generation of Labour ministers were making the argument for enhanced EU cooperation as a political priority for the UK under Labour. MacShane contrasted this new Labour pro-Europeanism with the further embrace of UKIP style anti-Europeanism by leading Conservatives, including party leader, David Cameron.
Extract from Jean Monnet Annual Lecture at Hull University, 1800h Fri 3 November 2006
It is time to begin sketching a new chapter in the history of Britain’s tortured relationship with the rest of Europe and the treaty organisations of the European Union.
Like the long-lasting fight over free trade in the 19th century the struggle over whether to be fully in Europe or to move to the exit door remains a symbol of two visions of Britain – open or closed, engaged or isolationist, nativist or internationalist, frightened of the foreign or confident in our British genius to offer leadership – in the 21st century.
Winston Churchill quit the Conservative Party at the beginning of the 20th century over its relapse into splendid isolation and its choice of tariffs and protectionism.
Today, under David Cameron, the Conservative Party has gone firmly back to what has always been the fatal attraction for the Tories – the view that our country can disconnect from the historical development of the continent and defy the new economics of open trade, open borders and the sharing of power with other nations.
Mr Cameron has surrendered to the worst of the anti-European elements in his party. He has pledged to break links with sister political parties in Europe. He relentlessly criticises any initiative to make Europe work. He has promised a sledge of referendums on any new treaty change – even if it is new treaty which guarantees a British Commissioner his or her place at the Commission after 2009.
Far from confronting the UKIP-BNP xenophobic hostility to Europe, Mr Cameron panders to such Euroscepticism. At the Tory Party conference, the biggest crowds were at meetings calling for withdrawal from Europe and Mr Cameron had never sought to exercise any discipline over his MPs who parrot the UKIP-BNP line against Europe.
By contrast, there is a remarkable change in the approach of Labour ministers to Europe.
David Milliband has called for an Environmental Union, an EU to tackle the important challenges laid down in Sir Nicholas Stern’s report.
John Reid, is urging his fellow EU interior ministers to cooperate more on combating supranational crime and terrorism.
The Treasury minister, Dawn Primarolo, argues that more not less EU is needed to deal with the massive fiscal frauds that cheat taxpayers of revenue which should go to government to do good things.
On foreign policy, it is clear that Britain’s voice is infinitely stronger when our ideas and policy are co-joined with other EU nations.
The EU is spending €6 million and sending 300 observers to the elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is just a small example of how Britain working within the EU can have a real presence on the ground in this key country and to support good democratic practices.
Britain alone would have neither the resources nor reach to contribute to this kind of unpublicized but vital foreign policy work.
Europe’s soldiers are now engaged from the shores of Lebanon to the frontier mountains of Pakistan in the new front of seeking to help the democratically elected governments of Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan deal with what the former German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer rightly calls the new totalitarianism of jihadi fundamentalism.
The Treasury Minister, Ed Balls, has come out this week firmly in favour of Europe. ‘On the economy, the social dimension, the environment, and foreign policy, Europe is going to play a bigger role in the future,’ he declared.
The early part of the Labour government was distorted by a debate over joining the Euro and then over the constitution.
I argued consistently, if sometime maladroitly to the great joy of the anti-European press, that the issue of the Euro was a red herring as in my judgement as steel constituency MP there was never the remotest possibility of the UK entering the Eurozone given the economic differences between the UK and the major Eurozone economies.
After the Euro question, for too much of this century the argument was focused on the need for a European constitution. Jack Straw wrote a famous essay for the Economist calling for a constitution for Europe. The paper depicted him in a cartoon as a new Benjamin Franklin, equipped with his quill pen, writing the new Philadelphia document that would bind Europe together.
I am sure Mr Straw would now be the first to declare that the years spent working on a giant document with its foolish title of constitution. As a minister I refused to use the term ‘constitution’ in Parliament or in correspondence.
Now the contentious issues of the Euro and the full-blooded constitution are behind us.
So practical politicians like Ed Balls, David Milliband and John Reid can craft a new European politics.
As Ed Balls told the Fabian Society in an important speech, alas unreported, this Wednesday, "In 2006 the sensible mainstream view is pro-British and pro-European – a hard-hedaed pro-Europeanism which puts out national interests first but understands that we are stronger by co-operating with our European partners… Whether on the single market or other critical issues like the environment, world trade, security, immigration, enlargement or the wider foreign policy we know that the only way to get the best deal for Britain is by working with our European partners."
This modern assertion of the centrality of Europe to Britain’s future from a leading figure in the next generation of Labour politicians is welcome and timely.
It builds bridges beyond the simplistic and crude pro or anti Euro, for or against the Constitution arguments which are yesterday’s debates.
It shapes a new progressive alliance which embraces Britain’s global trade destiny, as well as with other political forces, including pro-Europeans in other political parties who reject the soft Ukipism on offer from William Hague and David Cameron.
It means that the next era of European work will focus on showing that common European policy must be citizen-focused and demonstrating real delivery in the new areas of concern like the environment, crime, terrorism and adding a social dimension to the pressures of the post-national economy.
It is a Europe that does rather than a Europe that talks about itself.
The new approach from British ministers will be welcomed across the broad spectrum of parliaments and governments in the new Europe of 27 sovereign nations that agree to work together within the European Union.
I also believe that the new engagement with Europe we see from today’s ministers chimes with the arguments of the European Commission president, José Manuel Barroso. In an important speech at the Royal Institute of International Affairs last month, Mr Barroso reinforced this new approach by British ministers when he said:
"The UK's role in developing Europe is a vital role and the UK can take pride in its contribution. And yet it sometimes seems reluctant to do so. This may be because of your native modesty. But it will never work as a means of convincing the British public of the need for Europe. You will never persuade people to support an organisation which sometimes you pretend does not exist.
"The UK will always have influence in Europe. Its size, its economic power and its international networks will ensure that. So the question is: does the UK want to shape a positive agenda which reflects its own agenda, or be dragged along as a reluctant partner? Does the United Kingdom want to continue to drive from the centre; or return to sulking from the periphery?"
Mr Barroso is of the same political family as David Cameron but it is a new generation of Labour ministers who want to "drive from the centre" rather than the clear Tory choice of a "return to sulking from the periphery."
What I think we are hearing is a new engagement with Europe as Britain and the Labour Party prepares for a change of leadership. I am confident that as Labour prepares for a Gordon Brown premiership the pro-Europeans in Labour can be confident that the post-Blair Labour government will stay firmly committed to UK’s membership of the European Union and firmly supportive of enhanced European cooperation to meet new challenges.