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Tony Blair on the EU, interrupted by a eurosceptic heckler

On 28 November 2012, the former Prime Minister Tony Blair gave his  considered reflections to an audience at Chatham House in a lecture entitled ‘Europe, Britain and Business – Beyond the Crisis’. The full text of the lecture is at http://bit.ly/1UruGIs

Many speeches of prime ministers and ministers on Europe pass without the chance of clarifying the ill-formed arguments, inaccuracies, and non-sequiturs they often contain. In print, however, it is possible, so some questions that a eurosceptic might have asked have been added after Mr Blair’s remarks:

‘The case for the EU today, therefore is… is that, in this new world, to leverage power, you need the heft of the EU. This is true in economics, in trade, in defence, foreign policy and global challenges such as climate change. It gives us a weight collectively that on our own we lack.’

Is ‘heft’ either required or desirable in trade negotiations? Nations sign trade agreements because they are mutually beneficial, not because one of them has ‘heft’. Some of the most successful trading nations, like Korea, Singapore and Switzerland have no heft at all. How do they manage?  And the EU’s heft has made for immensely protracted negotiations as the interests of 28 nations are reconciled. Switzerland and Iceland have already signed agreements with China. Would you care to estimate how long it will be before the EU signs one? Or the opportunity cost of this delay?

‘And here there is no doubt that Europe needs fundamental, far-reaching reform. Many of those reforms are precisely what the UK has been arguing for, like reform of the social model.’

Why then, did you sign up to the Social Chapter when you came to office? Surely that is the quintessence of the social model? Can you name a single ‘fundamental, far-reaching reform’ of the EU that your governments sought and realised over the ten years you were in office? Or one you personally proposed when President of the Council?

‘When it comes to the future shape of Europe – economically, socially and politically – there is not a predestined consensus. There is a tumult of debate, discussion and dissension… An approach that says: first let us ask what we want Europe to do and then let us design mechanisms to do it, would draw support across Europe.’

But many European countries have long since decided what they want Europe to do. It’s called ever closer union and they have long since designed institutions and mechanisms to do it: the European Commission, the European Court, and treaty-based qualified majority voting on a wide range of policies. Isn’t it rather unlikely that the revised mechanisms of a non-euro, non-Schengen member will ‘draw support across Europe’?

‘There are three major disadvantages to Britain from being outside the EU… First, we would lose our global leadership role.’

What is this role exactly? Why should a country of 63 million people expect to have a ‘leadership role’? When has it been performed recently? Do the British people want it? Surely, as an ardent European, you should want Britain to lose it? Or is your idea that the other 27 countries will agree to follow Britain’s lead, and allow one of your successors to strut around the globe performing this ‘leadership role’ while they follow?  What if the French president or German chancellor has a similar aspiration?

‘Our trade with India depends hugely on Europe negotiating the FTA and Germany currently exports more than double what we do to India and to China; and France and even Italy export more to India.’

How can UK trade with India ‘depend hugely’ on an FTA which has been under negotiation for the past 8 years, but is not yet concluded? Your statistics are wrong in almost every particular. OECD reports show that in 2011, Germany exported to India goods to the value of $871m per month, France $547m, Italy $556m and Britain $784m. Per capita, the UK is some way ahead of Germany, in both services and goods. There is only one European country that exports more per capita to India than the UK – but that is the ‘heftless’, non-member Switzerland – which you  want to dismiss from the debate altogether.

‘Look what is happening elsewhere in the world: ASEAN, out in the Far East, now 700 million people strong, looking to get its single market underway; in South America through MERCOSUR and UNASUR; the Africa Union; even the Customs Union being promoted by Russia. Everywhere nations are coming together in regional blocs. Is Britain going to drift apart from the one on its doorstep?’

But, as you know, this is a shallow and spurious analogy, since none of these regional blocs plan to have supra-national Parliaments, a single market in the EU sense or ever closer union. Why make it?

 

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