Sunday, 17 July 2005

Europe: The Moment Of Truth

Tony Blair gave his praised speech to the European Parliament nearly a month ago ― what's good about me taking so long to find the, in my opinion, best extracts, is that you can now have it refreshed.
The speech is taken from the brilliant and interesting official 10 Downing Street website but I have modified the extracts slightly to match Blair's actual words.

'This is a mindset I have fought against all my political life. Ideals survive through change. They die through inertia in the face of challenge.


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 hide in the comfort zone of the things we have always said to each other in times of difficulty.

This 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 and 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, for centuries European nations individually had dominated the world, colonised large parts of it, fought wars against each other for world supremacy.

And then out of the carnage of the Second World War, political leaders had the vision to realise those days were gone. Today's world does not diminish that vision. It demonstrates its prescience. The United States is the world's only super power. But China and India in a few decades 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. And there is no shame in that. All institutions must do it. And we can. But only if we remarry the European ideals we believe in with the modern world we live in.


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.

And as ever I'm afraid the people are ahead of the politicians. We always think as a political class that 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 us. Precisely because they are not daily obsessed with it.

The issue, therefore, is not about the idea of the European Union. It is about modernisation. It is about 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 aren't convinced. Consider this.


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 the year 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. To receive the wake-up call. The people are blowing the trumpets round 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?

This 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 shouldn't be abstracted from the debate about Europe's crisis. It should be part of the answer to it.


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 avoid the dangers. Of course we need a social Europe. But it has to be a social Europe that works.


Such a Europe ― its economy in the process of being modernised, 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. Because be under no illusion: if we stop enlargement or shut out its natural consequences, it wouldn't, in the end, save one job, keep one firm in business, prevent one delocalisation. For a time it might but not for long.


There is only one thing I ask: don't let us kid ourselves that this debate is unnecessary; that if only we 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. And they are wanting our leadership. And it is time we gave it to them.'

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