Tonight David Cameron pays his second visit to Sweden in just over two years. In 2012 it was to meet his Nordic and Baltic counterparts. Tonight and tomorrow Prime Minister Reinfeldt is again his host, this time at Harpsund. And this time, the German Chancellor and Dutch Prime Minister will be the other participants. At a crucial moment in the European debate they’ll be charting a reform course for the EU. Here’s the article I published in the leading Swedish business newspaper Dagens Industri today, setting out our view of the reform challenges ahead.
A WAKE-UP CALL FOR EUROPE: OP-ED BY PAUL JOHNSTON, HMA STOCKHOLM, IN DAGENS INDUSTRI, 9 JUNE
Today David Cameron comes to Sweden to discuss the future of Europe.
Two weeks ago citizens voted across Europe to elect a new European Parliament.
Earthquakes, tremors, seismic waves: the media air was full of metaphors as pundits reflected on the emerging results.
The analogy that sprung to my mind was less a natural disaster than a wake-up call.
Some will say the results in the UK suggest that it’s already too late: that Britain has overslept and is sleepwalking out of the EU.
The UK government disagrees. These results show that people across Europe are disillusioned with the EU. Not a surprise, given the longest recession in living memory. But this is about more than economics: it’s about politics too. A return to growth, crucial though that is, will not solve all the EU’s problems. What we need is a serious rethink of where the EU goes next and how.
That was the message my Prime Minister took to the European Council dinner on 27 May. It was a message echoed around the table.
This is not a moment for the EU to panic. But emphatically it is not a time to return to business as usual.
What we need is new thinking, some new faces and a new agenda for the next Commission and the next 5 years, set by the European Council. Many leaders are committed to reforming the European Union.
That’s why David Cameron, along with Germany’s Angela Merkel and Mark Rutte of the Netherlands , has accepted the invitation of Fredrik Reinfeldt, to meet at Harpsund on 9-10 June, to look at the real reform challenges facing the EU up to 2020 and beyond.
For the UK, these concern above all competitiveness, fairness and flexibility.
Competitiveness, because the election results speak to a deep concern that Europe has lost sight of its key mission, to secure prosperity for its citizens. The next Commission, the member states, national parliaments and the European Parliament need a ruthless focus on creating jobs and growth. More free trade, less, and smarter, regulation, fewer barriers to commerce and innovation: these must be the watchwords if we are to respond effectively to the challenges of globalisation and demographic change.
Fairness, because the evolution of the Union needs to work for all member states, large and small, inside and outside the eurozone. We need eurozone governments to take the right decisions to stabilise and strengthen governance of the single currency. But access to the single market, and non-discriminatory treatment of all member states, not least those with big financial sectors like Sweden and Britain, means a fairer EU is integral to a more competitive EU.
And with competitiveness and fairness must come greater flexibility. If Sunday’s results demonstrate anything it’s that the EU’s institutions have become dangerously remote from those who pay for them and elect them. Centralisation and harmonisation in the pursuit of an abstract ideal need to be replaced with a more modern vision: where, as the Dutch government has said, it’s Europe where necessary, national where possible.
As long ago as 2001 Europe’s Heads agreed that powers could flow down as well as up, away from the centre as well as toward Brussels. It’s long past time to act on that.
The elections were thus a wake-up call for Europe. Some Europeans, although not many Swedes, have had a tendency to decry the UK debate on Europe, “noisy neighbours” endlessly questioning the status quo, the acquis, the Project.
But increasingly our debate is a Europe-wide debate, not about dismantling the European Union, but about adapting it for the future.
And it’s essentially a cross-party issue in Britain. Of course the Westminster parties differ on the details. The Conservatives would have an in-out referendum, following negotiation of a new settlement for the UK in Europe, by the end of 2017. Labour and the Liberals would have such a referendum only in the event of a Treaty change transferring powers from Britain to Brussels.
But all agree on the need to reform Europe.
As David Cameron concluded his Bloomberg speech in January 2013: “I believe something very deeply. That Britain’s national interest is best served in a flexible, adaptable and open European Union and that such a European Union is best with Britain in it… I will not rest until this debate is won. For the future of my country. For the success of the European Union. And for the prosperity of our peoples for generations to come. “
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