I was planning to write anyway this week about the European Union, following the European Summit at the end of the week before last.
For Britain, the EU remains key to our prosperity and security. Phrases like that can seem banal, the stuff of speeches and policy documents.
But the death this weekend of Vaclav Havel reminds us that for many tens of millions of Europeans that promise was denied them for half a century of Cold War Communism.
The bravery and vision of leaders, thinkers, writers and campaigners like him created the conditions for the reunification of Europe, surely one of the greatest positive changes in our lifetimes.
Britain wants a European Union that is faithful to the ideals of those who fought so hard for the changes that made its enlargement possible. That means a Europe committed to further enlargement, and to robust and effective external action, in foreign, defence and security policy, in work on energy security and climate change and – not least – on human rights.
In all of this, Sweden is an absolutely key partner. We both agree on the need to ensure the Single Market works better, particularly for businesses. It is only by keeping our economies open, expanding our trade and making EU laws more business friendly that we can get the economic growth in Europe that we all want to see.
Britain is and will remain a great place to invest, with all the advantages of the Single Market, and with important national features on top of that:
– one of the easiest places in the world to set up a business, according to the World Bank;
– 21 new enterprise zones around the country offering relief from business rates and taxes;
– tax on business falling to 23% by 2014, one of the lowest rates in the G7; and
– the great British heritage, culture and (most of the time) climate!
Like Sweden, we believe in a liberal, open, outward-facing Europe, which needs to be smart and competitive to thrive economically in the world we face today.
For that, we need to do everything we can to guard against a rigid, two-speed Europe. Countries large or small, inside or outside the single currency area, are equal partners in the EU. Maintaining that balance and fairness will remain a priority for Britain.
Very best wishes to all readers of this blog for a peaceful and happy Christmas and all that you and your family would wish for in the New Year.