Friday, 13th July 2012
The role that EU plays in our lives
Membership of the EU is in the UK’s national interest. We are committed to playing a leading role in a strong and stable EU. Being part of the EU is central to how we in the UK create jobs, expand trade and protect our interests around the world. It allows us to be in a single market of some 500 million people, with a combined GDP of £11trillion, in which we can trade, travel and work freely.
It is the basis for co-operation with our closest partners on cross-border issues, such as climate change, international development, migration and transnational crime. And it amplifies our voice to advance our values of democracy, open markets and individual rights in the wider world.
But today’s Europe needs reform more than ever. It has considerable achievements to its name, but also has real flaws and needs to adapt its ways to meet current and future challenges.
It needs to reform to meet the challenges of competitiveness, a stable Eurozone and greater democratic legitimacy. We need to open up EU and global markets. We need to be more dynamic and reduce the burden of legislation to allow Europe to create jobs and grow. We need an efficient EU budget that adds value. We need to secure our interests through enlarging the size of the EU, and through effective foreign policy, such as in promoting democracy in North Africa.
The Eurozone crisis is also changing the shape of the EU. We understand the case for Eurozone countries to take steps towards closer fiscal and economic integration as a logical consequence of monetary union. The UK will not get in the way of that and will encourage and support the necessary steps, ensuring the integrity of the single market and working for more effective regulation of the financial sector.
These necessary measures in the Eurozone are pushing towards greater “variable geometry” in the EU, with a number of different configurations of member states cooperating in different policy areas. This should make for a more effective EU, a body with the flexibility of a network, not the rigidity of a single bloc. This view is shared widely in Europe, and was reinforced in London this week by French President, Francois Hollande.
The crisis in the Eurozone has intensified the debate in every country on the future of Europe and there is no exception in the UK. But in making any changes, democracy and legitimacy must be upheld. The positive image of the EU has dropped across Europe from 52% in 2007 to 31% in 2011. Without the roots that sustain national democracies, it is even more important that the EU addresses the legitimate demands for greater accountability, transparency, efficiency and probity.
As the EU continues to develop, we need to be absolutely clear when it is most appropriate to take decisions at the national or local level, closer to the people affected, and when it is best to take action at an EU or global level, respecting the principle of subsidiarity and the role of national parliaments.
So now is the time to hold this review in the UK. Yesterday we launched in our own parliament a review looking at what the EU does and how this affects us in the UK. This is an integral part of our Coalition Agreement agreed in 2010.
Given the seriousness of the decisions, we must ensure that our national debate, like those across the EU, is thorough, analytical and well-informed. This is fundamental to our democratic debate. It will not be a consultation about whether we should be in or out of the EU. There is no question of the UK disengaging or withdrawing from the EU as a result of this exercise. It will invite contributions from across the European Union and globally with knowledge and expertise in the various areas in which the EU is active.
It will be the most thorough and detailed analysis possible on what the exercise of EU’s powers does and what it means for the United Kingdom and its citizens. It will ensure that our national debate is grounded in knowledge of the facts and will be a vital aid for our policy making. This will take time to do well and will conclude by the end of 2014.
Just as the German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle is taking forward work with his group on the future of Europe, this review will also provide an important, pragmatic and constructive contribution to the ongoing debate across Europe on the future of the EU itself.