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Thursday, 23 June 2005 - Brussels OJ edition

Programme of the British Presidency

  Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom . Mr President, colleagues, distinguished guests, it is an honour to be here in the European Parliament today. With your permission, I will come back after each European Council during the UK presidency and report to you. In addition, I will be happy to consult Parliament before each Council so as to have the benefit of the views of the European Parliament before any Council deliberations.

This is a timely address. Whatever else people disagree upon in Europe today, they at least agree on one point: Europe is in the midst of a profound debate about its future. I want to talk to you plainly today about this debate, the reasons for it and how to resolve it. In every crisis there is an opportunity. There is one for Europe now, if we have the courage to take it.

The debate over Europe should not be conducted by trading insults or in terms of personality. It should be an open and frank exchange of ideas. At the outset, I want to describe clearly how I define the debate and the disagreement underlying it. The issue is not between a ‘free market’ Europe and a social Europe, between those who want to retreat to a common market and those who believe in Europe as a political project. This is not just a misrepresentation. It is designed to intimidate those who want to change Europe by representing the desire for change as a betrayal of the European ideal, to try to shut off serious debate about Europe’s future by claiming that the very insistence on debate is to embrace the anti-Europe. It is a mindset I have fought against all my political life. Ideals survive through change. They die through inertia in the face of challenge.


I am a passionate pro-European. I always have been.

(Mixed reactions)

I was wondering whether this was going to be a lively forum, and I am delighted to see that it is.


It is called democracy and long may it be so.


The first time I voted was in 1975, in the British referendum on membership, and I voted ‘yes’. Shortly before the British election in 1983, when I was the last candidate in the United Kingdom to be selected, and when my party had a policy of withdrawing from Europe, I told the selection conference that I disagreed with the policy. Some thought I had lost the selection, some perhaps wish I had.


But I then helped to change that policy in the 1980s and I am proud of that change. Since becoming Prime Minister, I have signed the European Social Chapter; helped, along with France, to create the modern European defence policy; have played my part in the Amsterdam, Nice and Rome Treaties.

This is a Union of values, of solidarity between nations and people ...


… of not just a common market in which we trade, but a common political space in which we live as citizens. It always will be. I believe in Europe as a political project. I believe in Europe with a strong and caring social dimension. I would never accept a Europe that was simply an economic market.


To say that this is the issue is to escape the real debate and to hide in the comfort zone of the things we have always said to each other in times of difficulty. There is not some division between the Europe necessary to succeed economically and social Europe. Political Europe and economic Europe do not live in separate rooms. The purpose of social Europe and economic Europe should be to sustain each other. The purpose of political Europe should be to promote the democratic and effective institutions to develop policy in these two spheres and across the board where we want and need to cooperate in our mutual interest. But the purpose of political leadership is to get the policies right for today’s world.

For 50 years European leaders have done that. We talk of crisis; let us first talk of achievement. When the war ended, Europe was in ruins. Today the European Union stands as a monument to political achievement: almost 50 years of peace, 50 years of prosperity, 50 years of progress. Think of it, let us all be grateful for it and be proud of what has happened in Europe in these past 50 years.


The broad sweep of history is on the side of the European Union. Countries round the world are coming together today because in collective cooperation they increase individual strength. Until the second half of the 20th century, individual European nations had, for centuries, dominated the world, colonised large parts of it, and fought wars against each other for world supremacy. Then, out of the carnage of the Second World War, political leaders had the vision to realise that those days were gone. Today’s world does not diminish that vision: it demonstrates its prescience.

The United States is the world’s only superpower. But within a few decades China and India will be the world’s largest economies, each of them with populations three times that of the whole of the European Union. The idea of Europe, united and working together, is essential today for our nations to be strong enough to keep our place in this world.

But now, almost 50 years on, we have to renew. There is no shame in that. All institutions must do it, and we can, as well, but only if we remarry the European ideals we believe in to the modern world in which we live. If we do not, if Europe defaulted to euroscepticism, or if European nations, faced with the immense challenge we have in front of us, decided to huddle together, hoping we can avoid globalisation, shrink away from confronting the changes around us, take refuge in the present policies of Europe as if by constantly repeating them, we would by the very act of repetition make them more relevant, then we risk failure. Failure on a grand, strategic scale. This is not a time to accuse those who want Europe to change of betraying Europe. It is a time to recognise that only by change will Europe recover its strength, its relevance, its idealism and therefore its support amongst the people.


As ever, the people are ahead of the politicians. We always think as a political class that the people, unconcerned with the daily obsession of politics, may not understand it, may not see its subtleties and its complexities. Ultimately, people always see politics more clearly than we do, precisely because they are not obsessed with it on a daily basis.

The issue, therefore, is not about the idea of the European Union. It is about modernisation and policy. It is not a debate about how to abandon Europe, but how to make it do what it was set up to do: improve the lives of people. And right now, they are not convinced.

Consider this. For four years Europe conducted a debate over our new Constitution, two years of it in the Convention. It was a detailed, careful piece of work setting out the new rules to govern a Europe of 25, and then in time 27, 28 and more Member States. The Constitution was endorsed by all governments. It was supported by all leaders. It was then comprehensively rejected in referendums in two founding Member States, in the case of the Netherlands by over 60 per cent. The reality is that, as we speak today at least, to secure a ‘yes’ vote in a referendum in most Member States would be difficult.

There are two possible explanations. One is that people studied the Constitution and disagreed with its precise articles. I doubt that was the basis of the majority ‘no’. This was not an issue of drafting or specific textual disagreement. The other explanation is that the Constitution became merely the vehicle for the people to register a wider and deeper discontent with the state of affairs in Europe. I believe this to be the correct analysis. If so, it is not a crisis of political institutions. It is a crisis of political leadership.


People in Europe are posing hard questions to us. They worry about globalisation, about job security, about pensions, about living standards. They see not just their economy, but also their society changing around them. Traditional communities are broken up. Ethnic patterns change. Family life is under strain as families struggle to balance work and home. We are living through a profound era of upheaval and change. Look at our children and the technology they use and the jobs market they face. The world is unrecognisable from that which we experienced as students twenty or thirty years ago. When such change occurs, moderate people must give leadership. If they do not, the extremes gain traction on the political process. It happens within a nation. It is happening in Europe now.

Just reflect. The Laeken Declaration which launched the Constitution was designed, and I quote, ‘to bring Europe closer to the people’. Did it? The Lisbon Agenda was launched in 2000 with the ambition of making Europe, and I quote, ‘the most competitive place to do business in the world by 2010’. We are half way through that period. Has it succeeded? I have sat through Council Conclusions after Council Conclusions describing how we are reconnecting Europe to the people, but are we?

It is time to give ourselves a reality check and to receive the wake-up call. The people are blowing the trumpets around the city walls. Are we listening? Have we the political will to go out and meet them so that they regard our leadership collectively as part of the solution, and not part of the problem?


That is the context in which the budget debate should be set. People say we need the budget to restore Europe’s credibility. Of course we do, but it should be the right budget. It should not be abstracted from the debate about Europe’s crisis, it should be part of the answer to it.

I want to say a word about last Friday’s summit. There have been suggestions that I was not willing to compromise on the UK rebate; that I only raised common agricultural policy reform at the last minute; that I expected to renegotiate the CAP last Friday night. In fact I am the only British leader that has ever said I would put the rebate on the table. I have never said we should end the CAP now or renegotiate it overnight. Such a position would be absurd. Any change must take account of the legitimate needs of farming communities and must happen over time. I have said simply two things: that we cannot agree a new financial perspective that does not at least set out a process that leads to a more rational budget …


… and that this must allow such a budget to shape the second half of the perspective up to 2013. Otherwise it will be 2014 before any fundamental change is agreed, let alone implemented. In the meantime, of course Britain will pay its full share of enlargement. I might point out that on any basis we would remain the second highest net contributor to the European Union and have in this financial perspective paid billions more than similar-sized countries. That is actually the context for this debate on the budget.

So what would a different policy agenda for Europe look like? First, it would modernise our social model. Again, some have suggested that I want to abandon Europe’s social model. But tell me, what type of social model is it that has 20 million unemployed across Europe; …


… that has productivity rates falling behind those of the United States; that is allowing more science graduates to be produced by India than by Europe; and that on any relative index of a modern economy – skills, research and development, patents, information technology – is going down and not up? India will expand its biotechnology sector fivefold in the next five years. China has trebled its spending on research and development in the last five years. Of the top 20 universities in the world today, only two are now in Europe.

The purpose of our social model should be to enhance our ability to compete, to help our people cope with globalisation, to let them embrace its opportunities and to avoid the dangers. Of course we need a social Europe, but it has to be a social Europe that works. And we have been told how to do it. The Kok report of 2004 shows the way: investment in knowledge; in skills; in active labour market policies; in science parks and innovation; in higher education; in urban regeneration; and in help for small businesses. This is modern social policy, not regulation and job protection that may save some jobs for a time at the expense of many jobs in the future.


And since this is a day for demolishing caricatures, let me demolish one other: the idea that Britain is in the grip of some extreme Anglo-Saxon market philosophy that tramples on the poor and disadvantaged. The present British Government has introduced the New Deal for the unemployed, the largest jobs programme in Europe that has seen long-term youth unemployment virtually abolished in my country. It has increased investment in our public services more than any other European country in the past five years. We needed to do this, it is true, but we did it. We have introduced Britain’s first minimum wage. We have regenerated our cities, we have lifted almost one million children out of poverty, two million pensioners out of acute hardship and are now embarked on the most radical expansion of childcare, maternity and paternity rights in our country’s history. We have done all this on the basis of, and not at the expense of, a strong economy. So that is the first thing, to modernise our social model.

Second, let the budget reflect these realities. The Sapir report shows the way. Published by the European Commission in 2003, it sets out in clear detail what a modern European budget would look like. Let us put it into practice. But a modern budget for Europe is not one that ten years from now is still spending 40 per cent of its money on the common agricultural policy.


Third, implement the Lisbon Agenda. On jobs, labour market participation, school leavers, and life-long learning we set targets at Lisbon, but frankly, at present we are nowhere near meeting those targets by 2010. The Lisbon Agenda told us what to do, let us do it.

Fourth, and here I tread carefully, get a macroeconomic framework for Europe that is disciplined but also flexible. It is not for me to comment on the eurozone, but I just say this: if we agreed real progress on economic reform, if we demonstrated real seriousness on structural change, then people would perceive reform of macro policy as sensible and rational, not a product of fiscal laxity but of common sense. We need such reform urgently in Europe if Europe is to grow.


After the economic and social challenges, then let us confront another set of linked issues: crime, security and immigration. Crime is now crossing borders now more easily than ever before. We estimate that in the UK alone organised crime is costing us GBP 20 billion a year. Migration has doubled in the past 20 years. Much of it is healthy and welcome, but it must be managed. Illegal immigration is an issue for all our nations and a human tragedy for many thousands of people. It is estimated that 70 per cent of illegal immigrants have their passage facilitated by organised criminal groups. Then there is the repugnant practice of human trafficking, whereby organised gangs move people from one region to another with the intention of exploiting them when they arrive. Between 600 000 and 800 000 people are trafficked globally each year and every year over 100 000 women are victims of people trafficking in the European Union.

Again a relevant Justice and Home Affairs agenda would focus on these issues: implementing the European Union action plan on counter-terrorism, which has huge potential to improve law enforcement as well as addressing the radicalisation and recruitment of terrorists; cross-border intelligence and policing on organised crime; developing proposals to hit the people and drug traffickers hard in opening up their bank accounts, harassing their activities, arresting their leading members and bringing them to justice; getting returns agreements for failed asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants from neighbouring countries and others; developing biometric technology to make Europe’s borders secure. All of these are issues we can concentrate upon.

Then there is the whole area of common foreign and security policy. We should be agreeing practical measures to enhance European defence capability, to be prepared to take on more peacekeeping and enforcement missions. We should develop the capability, with NATO, or where NATO does not want to be engaged then outside it, to be able to intervene quickly and effectively in support of conflict resolution. Look at the numbers today in our European armies and the expenditure we make on defence. Do they really answer the strategic needs of today?

Such a defence policy is a necessary part of an effective foreign policy. But even without it, we should be seeing how we can make the influence of the European Union count. When the European Union agreed recently to a doubling of aid, and in particular a doubling of aid to Africa, it was an immediate boost not just for that troubled continent, but for European cooperation. We are world leaders in development today, we should be proud of it.


We should be leading the way on promoting a new multilateral trade agreement which will increase trade for all, especially the poorest nations.


We are leading the debate on climate change and developing pan-European policies to tackle it. Thanks to Javier Solana, Europe has started to make its presence felt in the Middle East peace process. My point is very simple: a strong Europe would be an active player in foreign policy, a good partner of course to the United States, but also capable of demonstrating our own capacity to shape and move the world forward.


Such a Europe – its economy in the process of being modernised and its security enhanced by clear action within our borders and beyond – would be a confident Europe. It would be a Europe confident enough to see enlargement not as a threat, as if membership were a zero sum game in which old members lose as new members gain, but an extraordinary, historic opportunity to build a greater and more powerful Union. Be under no illusion. If we stop enlargement or shut out its natural consequences it would not, in the end, save one job, keep one firm in business, prevent one delocalisation. For a time it might, but not for long. In the meantime, Europe would become more narrow, more introspective and those who garner support would be those not in the traditions of European idealism but in the traditions of outdated nationalism and xenophobia.

I tell you in all frankness, it is a contradiction to be in favour of liberalising Europe’s membership but against opening up its economy. If we set out that clear direction, if we then combine it with a Commission – as this one under José Manuel Barroso’s leadership is fully capable of doing – that is prepared to send back some of the unnecessary regulation, peel back some of the bureaucracy and become a champion of a global, outward-looking competitive Europe, then it will not be hard to capture the imagination and support of the people of Europe.

In our presidency, we will try to take forward the budget deal; to resolve some of the hard dossiers like the Services Directive and Working Time Directive; to carry out the Union’s obligations to those like Turkey and Croatia that wait in hope of a future as part of Europe; and to conduct this debate about the future of Europe in an open, inclusive way, giving our own views strongly but fully respectful of the views of others.

There is only one thing I ask: do not let us kid ourselves that this debate is unnecessary; that if only we can assume business as usual, people will sooner or later relent and acquiesce in Europe as it is, not as they want it to be.

In my time as Prime Minister, I have found that the hard part is not taking the decision, it is spotting when it has to be taken. It is understanding the difference between the challenges that have to be managed and those that have to be confronted and overcome. This is such a moment of decision for Europe.

The people of Europe are speaking to us. They are posing the questions. They are wanting our leadership and it time we gave it to them.

(Loud and sustained applause)

Last updated: 24 August 2005Legal notice