Posts Tagged ‘Europe’
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.
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’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.
In a month’s time the governments of the 47 members of the Council of Europe will try to agree reforms that are meant to strengthen the protection of human rights of the 800 million people living in those 47 member states.
The Council of Europe and its key institutions and tools – the European Court of Human Rights and the European Convention of Human Rights – have defended human rights and fundamental freedoms for over 60 years. They have helped to promote the rule of law in Europe, and transform the lives of many Europeans. But the work is far from completed.
The UK was one of the original architects of the European Convention of Human Rights and is currently the Chair of the Council of Europe. We strongly believe in the role and values of the Council but do not think the institutions of the Council are strong enough to carry out their important responsibility.
The key challenge is the huge backlog of cases in the Court in Strasbourg. This now stands at over 150,000 with an average delay of 5 years. This means that significant, urgent cases – for example, those involving individuals subject to unfair trial or denied free speech – will continue to be delayed. The Court itself has started to reduce the backlog, but even with the proposed reforms, the Court would still have too many cases to process. The best way to fix this problem is to ensure that the Member States pull their weight.
So we propose that governments do more to implement the Convention themselves, at home, through introducing national human rights institutions, domestic legislation enshrining the Convention, and better human rights training for civil servants and judges. This would reduce pressure on the Court, as more cases would be dealt with at the national level.
One of reforms the UK is therefore proposing is the ability for the Court to say no to cases which have already been fairly decided by national courts in accordance with the Convention.
This would not reduce the right of individuals to apply to have their case heard in Strasbourg. The Court would continue to decide these cases, and all Member States would continue to be held accountable. This would give the Court a vital extra tool with which to focus its caseload on the most serious abuses.
We believe there is now momentum for reform. Sweden is an important and valued partner in this work.
The Court has already begun this work and our proposals build on the reform programme agreed by all 47 members in recent years. Transforming the Court to a modern and effective institution will not be an easy job but is necessary and urgent to ensure Europe continues to be active and effective in seeking to prevent human rights abuse.
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.
I’m sorry for the long gap since my last blog. I’ve been in London and otherwise occupied. European events have been dominating my time, in particular this week’s European summit. I had my say about that in Tuesday’s DN.
The other big event of the week here is of course Nobel Week, reaching its climax with the Prize Awards Ceremony on Saturday, to which I’m hugely looking forward.
It’s not of course disconnected from the problems of the economy, which I wrote about in DN.
The UK government sees science and innovation as drivers of economic growth. On 8 December the UK published its Innovation & Research Strategy for Growth. Despite the difficult economic climate the UK’s knowledge base remains the most productive in the G8. Not only have we maintained the annual science budget at £4.6bn but we have invested an additional £495 million in capital projects, and we are focusing on improving incentives for SMEs to innovate.
The capital funding includes funding for graphene – the star of last year’s Nobel Awards – the strongest and thinnest material in the world and a game changer for computer processing power and lightweight materials.
It also includes funding for high performance computing to support industries such as automotive and aerospace. We are also launching a series of technology and innovation centres under the name Catapult – facilities which will commercialise innovation and research in high value manufacturing, cell therapy, and offshore renewable energy.
We have been following Swedish developments, particularly the Swedish Innovation Strategy and the upcoming Swedish Research Bill, with interest.
And we have been working productively together this year at the EU level to ensure that the Horizon 2020 proposals for the EU’s future approach to science and innovation reflect our shared priorities.
We, like Sweden, continue to encourage more joint working between universities, the healthcare service and the pharmaceutical industry.
On 5 December, David Cameron announced £180 million to bring new drugs and medical technologies to market through a “biomedical Catalyst Fund” open to universities and SMEs.
Sweden and the UK are both strong in Medtech and in the biology that underpins drug discovery and combating infectious diseases as well as many other areas. Both countries want to see faster and higher quality commercialisation of new life saving techniques to patients.
So, as we congratulate the Nobel winners this week, we can be confident in Sweden and the UK when it comes to renewed focus on innovation and growth. But we need to be innovative in our approach to innovation and keep pushing those boundaries!