Britain’s future relationship with the EU is a subject of constant debate. This week our Minister for Europe, David Lidington, has been in Stockholm, addressing the challenges the EU faces. He had good meetings with Carl Bildt and Birgitta Ohlsson.
In a talk at Utrikespolitiska Institutet he stressed that for all the attention given to the eurozone, the long term challenge for Europe was whether we could remain competitive faced with the shift of wealth and power to the emerging economies. That would require some tough and bold choices, where the UK and Sweden had a lot to offer the debate.
So although it’s fashionable in some countries (not in Sweden) to say Britain has no positive agenda for Europe, the Minister made clear that we, like Sweden, champion further reform:
- extending the single market to digital: why is only one tenth of e-commerce in Europe cross-border? because the status quo makes it too difficult;
- extending the single market to energy and services, which could reduce burdens for business and create huge numbers of new jobs;
- pursuing enlargement to the Western Balkans and Turkey, bringing dynamic economies into the European mainstream;
- pursuing external free trade, with the emerging economies and with the US and Japan.
David Lidington made clear that the debate was more complex than whether or not to accept a two-speed Europe. In practice the Europe of the future would be diverse and multifaceted. Not everyone would join the single currency or Schengen, but all EU member states had equal rights to participate in that single market and to help shape Europe’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, underpinning stability on our borders and beyond.
The Minister made clear that the Coalition government in the UK was committed to active and engaged membership of the EU, that we were ambitious for reform and renewal, and that we had no closer or more valuable partner than Sweden in the long term challenge of pursuing our shared interests in building a modern, liberal outward facing and inclusive European Union.