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Britain's place is at the “heart of the European Union”

Britain's place is at the “heart of the European Union”

1 3 min. 06.05.2013 From our online archive
British Ambassador to Luxembourg Alice Walpole spoke out on Britain's role in the EU and its commitment to a stronger and more competitive union, at the most recent American Chamber of Commerce ABAL event.

(CS) British Ambassador to Luxembourg Alice Walpole spoke out on Britain's role in the EU and its commitment to a stronger and more competitive union, at the most recent American Chamber of Commerce ABAL event on Monday.

Across the EU27, skepticism of the European Union has been on the rise, with elections in a number of states sparking protest votes and a rise in support for anti-EU parties.

In the UK, local elections in May gave a boost to the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), a party seeking the withdrawal of Britain from the European Union.

However, contrary to what has been widely reported the UK government does not simply wish to exit the EU, to keep the “pound and the pint,” explained the ambassador. Rather, it wants to ensure that the EU remains a key player in world and economic affairs, and that it once again becomes a union that British citizens want to be a part of.

Tackling challenges facing the EU

While the essence of Prime Minister David Cameron's EU speech earlier this year was boiled down to a proposed referendum, the Premier in fact spoke on these key challenges, Walpole said:

  • The eurozone and its need to flourish, with all member states needed to establish the right framework to fix the currency, while safeguarding access to the single market for non-euro countries;
  • ensuring the EU's competitiveness in the global economy;
  • the democratic gap between the EU and its citizens.

“More of the same will not secure a long-term future for the eurozone, will not see the EU keeping pace with the new powerhouse economies, will not bring the EU any closer to its citizens,” said Walpole.

Preparing the EU for the 21st Century

To prepare the EU for a long and successful future, Cameron also outlined five principles, Walpole continued.

For one, the single market is incomplete in several areas, such as diplomacy, energy or services. “We want to change that. We want a leaner, less bureaucratic EU, focused on helping its member countries compete,” Walpole said, adding that the EU should do more where it has value, but less where it doesn't.

With one in ten jobs in the UK relying on trade in the single market and half of all exports going to EU partners, the UK is keen to develop cooperation, and more needed to be done to focus the EU on “policies that aid its growth and build its competitiveness,” Walpole said.

This isn't about cherry-picking”

A second idea proposed by the UK Prime Minister was a greater flexibility within the EU to accommodate the needs of its members and to respond to changing requirements and opportunities. A “one-size fits all” approach was ill-suited for a diverse union, as the eurozone or the Schengen agreement showed.

“This isn't about cherry-picking. We all need to put our hands up for the tough and difficult stuff, too. But it is about choice,” the ambassador explained. “Willing cooperation is a much stronger glue than compulsion from the centre.”

An ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, as put forward in the European treaty, was not desirable to all. Were the treaty to acknowledge this, it would free up member states to move ahead on certain issues, without being “held back by the rest of us,” said the ambassador.

A vision for Europe

Further points developed by Cameron were:

  • An analysis of where the EU helps and hinders, and what kind of decision-making should be repatriated or applied across all member states;
  • democratic accountability and a bigger role for national parliaments in the EU;
  • a principle of fairness, by which policies implemented for any grouping within the EU, such as the eurozone, need to work fairly for all members.

Therefore, quite contrary to criticism of a lack of vision for Europe, Britain offered a very clear vision, Walpole said, “of a flexible union of free member states sharing treaties and institutions, and pursuing together the idea of cooperation, representing and promoting the values of European civilisation to the world, building a strong economic base across Europe,” while at the same time not forging a closer political union.

The ambassador was not shy to admit an “undercurrent of instinctive skepticism” among British citizens, but she was confident that Britons were “smart enough to understand that slipping out from the European mainstream is not the best future for the UK” and that when or if the time comes the UK will make the “right choice to stay right at the heart of the European Union.”

Watch David Cameron's full speech below.

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