Posts Tagged ‘EU’
Last week I spent two fascinating days in Uppsala, talking to students about UK views on the future of Europe, and meeting local politicians, businesses and academics.
I stressed, as I did at a meeting with the British-Swedish Chamber of Commerce, the UK’s commitment to the EU, but also our recognition of the need for reform.
We had a top UK politician in Stockholm last week.
The Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Davey, met his Swedish counterparts, Anna-Karin Hatt and Lena Ek. He also talked to actual and potential Swedish investors in the UK.
There’s a huge opportunity for Swedish investors in the UK energy market. We need £110 billion investment over the next decade to replace our ageing energy infrastructure (coal fired power plants and nuclear energy) with a more diverse and low-carbon energy mix, particularly more renewable energy.
We start the process of decarbonising our economy a long way behind Sweden, given your natural advantages. Our aim is to have 15% of our energy from renewable by 2020 (which is our EU target), whereas Sweden is already, I think, getting more than triple that, almost half its energy, from renewables.
But we’re committed to meeting our goals: indeed we’ve set a long term goal of cutting carbon emissions by 80% by 2050; that is why it is so important that we increase the share of our energy we get from renewables alongside other low carbon technologies such as carbon capture and storage.
Ed Davey and Lena Ek talked to their Danish and Dutch counterparts about the need to make the case, in the EU and beyond, for a Green Growth strategy, showing that making the planet healthier is fully compatible with continuing to grow our economies. That will also be a theme when David Cameron goes to Latvia to meet his Nordic and Baltic counterparts at the third Northern Future Forum this week.
In last week’s Riksdag debate on foreign policy, Carl Bildt highlighted the progress that the EU has made through the Eastern Partnership – a Sweden/Poland initiative, of which the UK has been a strong supporter.
That support will be seen in action this week when British Foreign Secretary Hague makes a joint visit to Moldova with Foreign Minister Bildt and Poland’s Foreign Minister Sikorski.
The visit comes at a sensitive political time in Moldova. The European message will be pursue an ambitious reform programme. Respect for human rights, combating corruption, and creating a stable, predictable and transparent business environment are all crucial to moving forward.
But before heading for Moldova our Foreign Ministers will meet on Monday in Brussels at the Foreign Affairs Council meeting. There they will have detailed discussions about many of today’s big issues, such as helping the people of Syria, countering the threat of proliferation and regional security arising from North Korea’s recent missile launch, and also the EU’s response to the Mali crisis.
This week, I too am travelling, including to talk about Britain’s views on the Future of Europe debate at Uppsala university.
As Carl Bildt underlined in the Riksdag today, the US is Europe’s main international partner, on the security and prosperity agendas.
So the UK government welcomes, as Sweden does, President Obama’s call in his State of the Union Speech last night for what he called “a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership” with the EU. Britain has been arguing hard for this, including in our role as G8 presidency.
David Cameron said today:
“It’s great that President Obama has set out his determination to agree a trade deal between the EU and the United States. We discussed this issue on Monday and we are both committed to launching negotiations this year. A deal will create jobs on both sides of the Atlantic and make our countries more prosperous. Breaking down the remaining trade barriers and securing a comprehensive deal will require hard work and bold decisions on both sides. But I am determined to use my chairmanship of the G8 to help achieve this and to help European and American businesses succeed in the global race.”
Our Trade Minister, Lord Green added that this was a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to liberalise trade fully between the world’s two largest trading blocs. An agreement could boost the European economy by more than £50bn – the biggest prize from any trade deal currently under way.”
As you will have seen, the British Prime Minister made an important speech on the future of the EU in London on 23 January.
The PM’s speech reiterates his commitment to keeping the UK in the EU, at the heart of the Single Market, but also leading EU action on energy, climate change, development, foreign policy and other global challenges.
The speech also assesses the challenges that all of us in Europe face. Specifically, the challenges of the Eurozone crisis and the changes it is driving in Europe, Competitiveness in the face of a transformed global economy, and the gap between Europe and its peoples.
The PM proposes five principles for reform to overcome these challenges:
• Competitiveness: a serious effort to deepen the Single Market, cut red tape, open up trade and reform the EU’s institutions
• Flexibility: embracing the diversity of the EU, rather than insisting on one size fits all. He has offered some initial ideas on what that means. But we recognise that we are at the beginning of that debate, not the end.
• Power must be able to flow back to Member States, as EU leaders have previously promised: we should examine what the EU should do and should stop doing
• Democratic accountability: there has to be a bigger role for national parliaments
• Fairness: the changes brought by the Eurozone crisis must not undermine the integrity of the Single Market
These are far-reaching and complex issues for Britain and the EU. Britain wants to work these through with our EU partners. We want to work with Sweden and others to help shape the future of an open, flexible and adaptable European Union, to achieve not just a better deal for Britain, but a better deal for Europe too.
First and foremost, happy New Year. I hope 2013 is a great year for all of you.
Late 2012 marked the mid-point of the UK Coalition government’s five year term and this week the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister published the Government’s own mid-term review.
Given the interest in Sweden on the UK’s approach to the EU, I thought I would summarise here some of the key points on Europe:
- The Government is committed to membership of the European Union. The future of our economy is deeply connected to the stability and prosperity of the EU.
- It is therefore in our interests that the immediate crisis in the Eurozone should be resolved as speedily and effectively as possible.
- In the long run, European Union prosperity depends on free and open markets. We are committed to working for the completion of the single market.
- At the same time, we will oppose any new burdensome and costly regulatory proposals which threaten our competitiveness, and, alongside like-minded allies, insist on discipline in European Union spending.
The review sets out some of the Government’s key priorities for the year ahead, including:
- We will insist on a tough, fiscally responsible outcome of the negotiations on the next EU seven-year budget framework, continue to make the case for Common Agricultural Policy reform and prevent any changes to the British rebate.
- We will continue vigorously to defend Britain’s interests in the negotiations on a banking union and protect the competitiveness of the City of London and UK financial services. The safeguards that we have achieved in the initial banking union negotiations set a crucial precedent, and will protect countries such as the UK which are not part of the single supervisory mechanism.
- We will continue to lead the EU growth agenda – with the aim of removing unnecessary regulations particularly for small and innovative companies, deepening and widening the single market and liberalising trade, notably by negotiating a free trade deal with the US.
Those three areas – ensuring a realistic budget for the EU, ensuring that the rights of all member states are respected, in particular with regard to the Single Market, as the Eurozone integrates, and a focus on growth and trade - are all areas where the UK and Sweden will, I am sure, continue to work closely together in 2013 and beyond.
Britain joined the EU (or the EEC as it then was) on 1 January 1972.
To say the least the EU (and the UK) has changed a lot since then. For most of that period there’s been a lively debate on what the impact of EU membership is on the UK.
Our government is clear that EU membership is in the UK’s national interest. It is central to how we create jobs, expand trade and protect our interests around the world.
But Europe is changing. We don’t know what the EU will end up looking like at the end of this crisis.
This year the Government decided to launch a detailed review to examine what impact the EU has on the UK in more detail than ever before.
The review will look at the scope of the EU’s competences (the power to act in particular areas conferred by the EU Treaties) as they affect the UK, how they are used, and what that means for Britain and our national interests. The review will examine about 30 areas of EU competence between now and the end of 2014. It will be divided into four ‘semesters’, each containing a number of individual reports. Reports will be published at the end of that semester.
The first semester will run from autumn 2012 to summer 2013. In the first semester Departments will produce reports on: taxation; animal health and welfare and food safety; health; development; and foreign policy. The first semester will also include an overview on the single market. The reports will be analytical in nature. They will draw on relevant evidence received in response to a ‘call for evidence’ which Departments will issue to prepare each report shortly after the start of each semester. Departments will seek evidence from a wide range of interested parties including Parliament, business, civil society, the public, the Devolved Administrations, foreign governments and EU Institutions.
The review is intended to provide evidence to inform the debate in the UK, not least in the run-up to the next election, rather to lead immediately to any specific policy recommendations. This is by far the most serious and extensive analysis of what the EU means for the UK – or probably for any Member State – ever undertaken.
We hope it will also be of interest to other countries, including Sweden, given the big issues Europe needs to face about remaining competitive and effective in a rapidly changing continent and world.
The FCO website will contain up-to-date information on the progress of the review, including which reports are currently in train and details of how to contribute evidence. Please do take a look!
Next year Britain chairs the G8, the group of the world’s most developed Western economies. So what you might ask?
Some people ask: does the G8 still matter, when we have a G20, embracing also the emerging powers, including Brazil, India and China?
The UK’s answer is “Yes”. The G8 is a group of like-minded nations who share a belief in free enterprise as the best route to growth. And as the countries make up half of the world’s GDP, what we do can help solve vital global issues, stimulate economies and encourage prosperity all over the world.
The G8 Summit next year will be held in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland, a tribute to the success in promoting security and prosperity in that long-troubled part of the UK.
It will be focused on three priorities. Advancing trade, ensuring tax compliance and promoting greater transparency.
There is no greater stimulus for growth in the world economy than trade. As the G8, we have a collective responsibility to drive forward trade liberalisation. The UK and Sweden are leading EU efforts to finalise a free trade agreement with Canada and to launch negotiations with Japan and America over the next year. We want G8 leaders to agree how we will accelerate progress across our ambitious trade agenda. An EU/US deal could provide an enormous boost to jobs and growth adding over £50 billion to the EU economy alone.
People rightly get angry when they work hard and pay their taxes, but see others not paying their fair share. So this G8 will seek to maintain the momentum on strengthening of international tax standards. We will look to go further on tax havens by improving tax information exchange. And we will work with developing countries to help them improve their ability to collect the tax that is due to them.
The UK is meeting our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of our gross national income on aid from 2013 – and we will be holding other countries to account for their promises too. We will also be leading the way in the battle against hunger with a special event on food and nutrition a few days before the main meeting, to follow up on this year’s Olympic Hunger Summit.
The UK wants to use this G8 to support what David Cameron calls the “golden thread” of conditions that enable open economies and open societies to drive prosperity and growth for all. These include the rule of law, the absence of conflict and corruption, and the presence of property rights and strong institutions.
Transparency and accountability are vital for this. Take the issue of mineral wealth. We need to make sure that, for developing countries, this is a blessing not a curse. So the UK is leading efforts in the EU to require oil, gas and mining companies to publish key financial information for each country and project they work on. And I want this G8 to drive greater transparency all around the globe so that revenues from oil, gas and mining can help developing countries to forge a path to sustainable growth, instead of fuelling conflict and corruption.
These defining advances in trade, tax and transparency could lay the foundations of long-term growth and prosperity for generations to come.
Guest blog by Alison Thorpe, Chargé d’affaires at the British Embassy in Sweden
Yesterday, a friend here in Sweden ordered a pram on-line. The best price was from a French company. The site (albeit in French only) helpfully gave a price for delivery to Sweden. But it proved impossible to register as a customer outside France. She put “Sweden” in the comment box and pressed send. And the order was confirmed, to be delivered to “Stockholm, France”. A few emails later, the situation was resolved, and the company was incredibly helpful. But I suspect that many other potential customers may well have given up!
Nevertheless, this led me to think about how Europe has become one big marketplace. In fact, this week the Single European Market celebrates its 20th anniversary. Historically speaking, 20 years is nothing more than a blink of an eye. But for most of us it’s still quite a long time. 20 years ago it was 1992. So how different did things look then?
For a start, mobile phones looked like bricks. In fact how many of us had one? It was 1997 before I took the plunge, and I remember wondering how I would ever send an SMS! Nor was Internet the ubiquitous thing it is today. Remember the excitement of hearing the dial-up modem squeal as it slowly-slowly- ever-so-slowly connected, while you waited impatiently to see if you had received any messages? (Or was that just me?)
Today things have moved on, and many of the day-to-day benefits we take for granted today are in no small part a consequence of the creation of the Single Market. It encompasses 500 million people, with 21 million companies, generating GBP 11 trillion of economic activity. The UK, like Sweden, sees the EU as its major trading partner, with about half of our exports going to EU countries. Since 1992, the UK’s bilateral trade with Sweden alone has gone up 187%. We estimate that as many as 3.5 million jobs in the UK exist thanks to the Single Market, which has also brought plenty of tangible benefits to Mr. Smith and Mrs. Svensson: cheaper mobile communications, more consumer choice over gas, water or electricity providers, safer medicines, visa-free travel…. to name but a few.
But we can do more. A Dutch report suggests that a truly free market in services could increase current trade by a ratio of 3 to 5. And the European Policy Centre estimates that developing the Digital Single Market by 2020 could add another 4% to the EU’s GDP. By way of example, e-commerce in 2010 in Europe was worth EUR 175bn, and it is growing fast. Yet many of us still only shop on-line within national borders. Sometimes this is because we choose to do so, but other times it is because it can be difficult to do otherwise, unless you’re as dedicated as my pram-buying friend!
Cross-border trade in prams may not be the bedrock of the EU economy but, added to the vast range of other goods and services that circulate within our single market, every little helps. In today’s difficult economic climate, we need to look at all the options available to increase Europe’s prosperity. And we need to ensure the EU remains – and becomes even more – competitive in the global economy. The EU institutions, individual governments, businesses, civil society – we can all do something….whether we’re in Enköping, Edinburgh, Evian or Essen.
Who knows – maybe next time my friend can even order her pram, on-line, via her smartphone, finding the best possible price, without feeling the need to bang her head against the wall!
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.