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Europe : Friend or Foe

June 26, 2004 12:00 AM
By David Goodall in Liberal Democrat Headquarters, 4 Cowley Street, London

Good morning I am David Goodall from the Liberal Democrats, and I have been invited today to talk to you on the subject of Europe Friend or Foe. This is an interesting title it is about defining our relationship with the rest of Europe.

I believe the best analogy to use when defining this relationship is one of family. Over the centuries we have fought with, and been friends with, many of the countries in Europe. And speaking as someone with a German wife and therefore a German mother-in-law, I find it particularly easy to see our European relationships in family terms.

The best families are good supportive ones. And this type family benefits all its members. The question is can the same be said of the European Union. In the Liberal Democrats we strongly believe it can.

The EUs fundamental role is guaranteeing peace and freedom in Europe, it does this by

  • promoting enterprise,
  • protecting the environment,
  • supporting global development
  • and fighting discrimination.

And doing this for Britain brings enormous benefits to us OR simply put the European Union is :-

  • Good for British people
  • Good for British businesses
  • And good for the British environment

Good for people, now Liberal Democrats always say Europe is great, so what does the EU do for its people :-

  • The EU gives the freedom for people to live and work anywhere in Europe, whether like me it was working in Germany or like the 1000's that have retired to Spain.
  • The EU gives the freedom for people to shop around for the best price, whether it is for drink or cars.
  • The EU helps balance the needs of the work and family life with a minimum level of holiday, maternity and paternity leave for all
  • The EU backs up these freedoms with a basic set rights, secure pensions, and common set anti-discrimination laws.

We are a party that frequently tells it like it is, whether this is on tax, health, or education and the European Union is no exceptions to this.

So although we are pro-European, we are also clear about its limits and failings. Improvements are required, but we believe that the EU must have the powers and resources to act on European wide scale.

It is a fundamental part of our philosophy that power is exercised at the lowest practicable level, therefore Liberal Democrats will continue to press for a Europe that is diverse, democratic and decentralised.

As Liberal democrats we would reform of the EU and our main priorities would be:

  • To support a Constitution for the EU that defines and limits its powers, ensuring that decisions are made at the most appropriate level.
  • To make the European Commission more democratically accountable by getting European Parliament committees to annually cross-examine commissioners on their proposals.
  • And to make sure that European Union bodies are more open. The Council of Ministers should meet in public whenever it discusses legislation and its proceeding should be published. The European Central Bank, its minutes and votes should also be published

However we would, of course, maintain the veto in areas of vital interest to the UK, like

  • our defence,
  • our natural resources,
  • our budgetary and tax issues
  • and our pay and social security regulations,

But all other areas should be opened up to qualified majority should be used to ensure the effective running of the EU.

This will both :-

  • improve the running of EU
  • the effect it has you

And as Liberal Democrats we will keep on making it better for you.

Now why is the EU good for its businesses, Well for centuries Britain has been a good trading nation and Europe is a 455 million strong block for whom the EU's main aim is to ensure that the game of business is :-

  • Played on a level field,
  • Played fairly,
  • Played under the same rules

I believe that under these conditions British business will thrive. I also believe that given our chance in Britain we have the most adaptable, flexible and productive workforce.

It is at the heart of our policies for businesses is that trade should be genuinely liberal and free. And as party we are pressing :-

  • For the EU to make all possible efforts to increase competition
  • For the EU to take stronger action to reduce state subsidies
  • For the EU make a single market in finance services

Above all Liberal Democrats favour British membership of the euro, of course,

  • at a sensible exchange rate, and subject to a referendum.

Entry into the Euro can make the UK substantially more prosperous by:

  • Reducing uncertainty for importers and exporters, so increasing trade.
  • Promoting competition in the economy, since trade increases choice for consumers.
  • Raising the rate of growth, as innovative firms are able to expand more easily.
  • Giving the UK more influence on single European market rules.

And the cost of staying out is not zero the year before the introduction of the euro:-

  • foreign investment into Britain was 27% of the EU total
  • By 2002 this had dropped to 7%

Or to put in another way we are losing out on investment worth £81 billion per year.

And I am positive your businesses would benefit from even a small slice of this.

EU membership has boosted our trade, it has widened our horizons, and has been good business and it will continue to be good for business.

On the environment even the most hardened critic of the European Union knows that pollution does not stop at the border and that co-operation on a European level is required, already :-

  • EU laws have raised water and air quality standards across Britain, have now have otters returning to the rivers, blue flag clean beach, and kingfishers in our cites.
  • EU laws force manufacturers to recycle equipment and design goods so they can be recycled.
  • The EU takes the lead in combating global warming, and is pulling the world together to combat this important issue.

This is why the European Union is good for the environment.

Liberal Democrats would build on this good track record:

  • By Putting the environment at the heart of Europe, making sure all EU policies are analysed for their likely environmental impact.
  • By arguing for the EU to play a greater role in raising worldwide environmental standards. Through providing support for the UN Environment Programme and for the enforcement of environmental conventions
  • And by Co-ordinating the adoption by the Member States of environmental taxes. Like a carbon tax, actual taxation systems at would of course be for individual member states to decide.

Liberal Democrats want to Europe to do even better for the environment.

So what is the big European idea.

Is it to create a European version of the US ?

NO. The US is just a big country, like China, like Russia or like India

The idea of Europe is to build a new way of interaction between sovereign states,

and to build institutions that allow us :

  • To live together peacefully
  • And to prosper together in a healthy and sustainable environment.

In Europe we are the example others will follow :-

whether in NAFTA, South America, South East Asia, Arab world or even Africa.

Every nation needs to live with and work together with its neighbours.

And in Europe we truly do lead and the others follow.

Thank you for listening. Now are there any questions.