Few matters are more fundamental to Britain’s interests than our position within the European Union.
But Britain’s relationship with Europe has always been marred by a degree of ambivalence, and continues to be so.
It is absurd that when the EU celebrates its fiftieth birthday next year, the UK will have been a member for two thirds of that period – and yet the merits of our membership are still frequently disputed or even denied by some politicians and commentators.
The past ten years have been particularly damaging.
Britain’s economic growth, coupled with our international strength presented us with the opportunity to lead Europe from the front.
But that chance has been squandered.
Labour and the Conservatives have both avoided the European debate.
Not because they fail to recognise its importance.
Rather because they fear its impact on their internal unity and their electoral prospects.
Labour fears the newspaper editors.
The Tories fear their own supporters.
Both are divided.
And their reluctance to engage has stifled debate and cost us dearly.
It is axiomatic that Britain’s foreign policy should be determined by British interests and British priorities.
But Britain is no longer in a position to achieve its objectives on its own.
We must work with like-minded countries in genuine partnership.
The kind of partnership where what we say actually counts.
British interests and British priorities are best served by a government that seeks to maximise our influence within the European Union.
And the benefits that we receive from it.
A strong European Union allows its member states to extend their influence through collective action.
Many of the causes of public anxiety in Britain cannot be tackled effectively without coherent and coordinated action by the European Union itself.
Cross-border crime, terrorism, climate change, and immigration can best be managed by combined action, in a way that they cannot be by individual nation states.
We can more effectively lead the way from within Europe than we can on our own, whether in carrying weight in the wider world or in influencing our ally, the US.
This is an extension of sovereignty, not its erosion.
The European project has sought to extend peace and prosperity amongst its member states and, increasingly, among its neighbours.
And it has been extraordinarily successful in that regard.
But the EU has long had bigger ambitions than that.
It needs to become more imaginative and more effective so that its values become increasingly the values of the countries it deals with, whether in the Balkans, Middle East, the Caucasus, or North Africa.
Britain’s security – Europe’s security – substantially depends upon this.
But there is a feeling that Europe has lost its focus, that even when it has good objectives, it has no idea how to achieve them.
That it is punching below its weight.
And that it is less effective and less influential than it should be.
I want to outline my own case for a rejuvenated and dynamic Europe in which Britain plays a full and effective role.
First, I will outline the potential for Europe to take a greater role in promoting its values through its Common Foreign and Security Policy, with the full and active participation of the UK.
Second, I will look at how Europe can cut the amount of legislation that it initiates, and that by doing less, it can do better.
And third, I will outline the need for a Powers Audit, to reshape EU policy priorities, and bring them into line with public need.
Let me turn first to Britain’s role in the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy.
The UK government has been enthusiastic about the CFSP from its inception.
Along with France, Britain has led the way with the Rapid Reaction Force which was always expected to involve a weighty commitment from the British military.
And British military personnel fill key posts within the EU military structure.
We have also promoted the strengthening of the CFSP, with top officials in Brussels and active support for Javier Solana in his efforts on behalf of Europe, for example in Ukraine a year ago and with Iran this year.
But since that time, the UK’s focus has been on other military ventures – most significantly, Iraq.
Britain should distinguish its own foreign policy from that of the United States.
It should rediscover its independence of thought.
We should all value our relationship with the United States.
But the relationship needs to be rebalanced, redesigned and renewed.
I want Britain to be more open-minded about its foreign policy.
And clearer about its own interests.
Foreign policy is no place for evangelism or adventurism.
Geography and political reality mean that our national interest is best served when we maximise the influence that we gain from our EU membership.
Today, Britain’s foreign policy lacks credibility and influence.
No 10 has found proximity to the White House flattering.
But we have allowed ourselves to get too close.
We have flown too close to the Sun.
The most obvious example of this is Iraq.
Now, nearly four years after the invasion, daily life in Iraq is worse than ever, and, in the judgement of Kofi Annan, worse for ordinary citizens than it was under Saddam.
We have embarrassed our friends, diminished our influence and exposed the citizens of Iraq to a new form of daily terror.
And we appear to have learned so little from the situation in Iraq.
During the summer, we saw conflict in Lebanon, between Israeli forces and Hezbollah fighters.
That conflict killed over 1,500 people – most of whom were Lebanese civilians.
It damaged Lebanese infrastructure and weakened the Lebanese government.
It has undermined Israeli security and weakened the Israeli government.
As in Iraq, US and UK policy intended to combat terrorism, has created the kind of instability and uncertainty under which terrorism threatens to gain strength.
It is time for Britain to change course.
There is a national consensus in this country that a rules based system for the regulation of international relations, based on diplomacy and the rule of international law must be the foundation stone for international peace and stability.
That is why we so strongly support the UN and want to see it made more effective.
These are objectives we share with our European partners.
It is not at all clear that they are shared on the other side of the Atlantic.
That is why we must work with our European partners to persuade the US that this is in the US interest too, as rising powers in Asia reach towards super-power status.
In an environment of frankness and partnership between Europe and America Europe’s Common Foreign and Security Policy has the potential to flourish.
And in that, Britain should play a leading role.
In Lebanon, for example, the EU has contributed thousands of personnel to the international force that followed this year’s conflict.
Because their governments called for an early ceasefire the soldiers of France, Italy and Spain are welcome in Lebanon, where they are able to contribute to peace-making.
Similarly, representatives of the EU have engaged in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear ambitions.
We do not yet know if this strategy will ultimately work.
But we do know that the alternative of force has failed disastrously in Iraq.
But why should the EU lead these missions?
What is Europe’s objective in doing so?
Stability on Europe’s frontiers is important for the security of all European countries.
That should be Europe’s objective.
And that means that it should be Britain’s objective too.
We have already acknowledged this in other ways.
British support for European enlargement has so far been robust.
So it was with the 2004 enlargement.
So it is with the 2007 enlargement.
And so it should be with any future enlargements.
These could include Turkey, Croatia, and others.
This is the use of soft power to achieve hard results.
And we should be enthusiastic when Europe offers a means to do that.
Indeed, we should lead that effort.
We have one of Europe’s largest and most effective military capabilities.
Working with our European allies, Britain can add to the confidence and capability of the EU’s foreign and security policy.
We can enable the EU to undertake tasks that are currently beyond its scope when key contributors are focused on conflict elsewhere.
King Abdullah of Jordan has warned that if the peace process is not restarted soon, the Middle East could slide further into conflict.
He has drawn our attention to the fact that Jordan is surrounded by three conflicts.
Israel and the Palestinians.
All of these have the potential to destabilise the region to the disadvantage of all of us.
There will be no resolution of any of these that does not involve the United Sates.
US involvement and commitment is a sine qua non.
But for both historical and current reasons the United States comes to the table with an umbilical link to Israel.
An honest midwife is necessary if, a settlement of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is to be delivered.
The EU could be that midwife.
Its impartiality is not perfect in the eyes of either of the parties to the dispute but it is better than anything anyone else can offer.
Europe is needed more than ever.
Europe cannot pull off a Middle East settlement itself.
The US remains a key and indispensable player.
But Europe can provide ideas, help with leadership and mediation and, above all, promote our own interest in a fair settlement through the priority we give to it in our relations with the United States.
I welcome the Prime Minster’s personal commitment demonstrated in his recent visit to Washington and his impending visit to the region.
But why, one has to ask, has it taken so long and been so low in our priorities that, for all the effort and sacrifice we were making in Iraq, we were unable earlier to get the US to listen on Palestine?
Of course any peace process will be complex to create and fragile to implement, but Europe should be an active participant.
The new British prime minister will have the chance to realign our foreign policy.
There is already an expectation that he will do so.
That the Blair / Bush approach will wither on the vine.
After Geoff Hoon’s recent remarks and Kendall Myers’ revelations it could hardly be otherwise.
It should hardly be otherwise.
The true measure of that relationship was demonstrated not only in Brussels when the President inadvertently publicly turned down the Prime Minister’s offer to visit the Middle East so as to leave the coast clear for Dr Rice.
But at last week’s press conference when the Prime Minister, by his reticence, clearly indicated his support for the conclusions of the Baker Report, which was effectively being dismissed by the President.
The Prime Minister appears less like a candid friend; more like a loyal retainer.
Mr Brown’s view of the relationship between the UK and the USA is opaque, save in his admiration for American economic flexibility.
His grudging support for the Iraq war tells us little about whether he would have done the same as Mr Blair.
But his distaste for and distance from Europe are plain to see.
And what of Mr Cameron?
He repeatedly calls himself a “liberal conservative”, as much of an oxymoron as it would be do describe oneself as a conservative liberal.
But Mr Cameron cannot follow where his own logic leads him – to engage whole-heartedly in Europe.
An unpublicised meeting here.
A lukewarm press report there.
These are no substitute for public recognition of the salience of Europe, and the potential it offers for British leadership and the furtherance of British interests.
Indeed, in Brussels, he is even having trouble finding people that he would want his MEPs to sit beside.
By marginalising the subject of the European Union in British domestic politics he contributes to our marginalisation in Europe.
Let me now turn to how the EU is perceived in Britain and the extent to which its real meaning and value are diminished by the temptation of legislators to do too much.
Peter Mandelson, has said that “Europe has to address people’s needs directly and reflect their priorities, not our own preoccupations”.
British newspapers like to run stories about the EU making pronouncements on noisy fly-mos or how much cocoa solid is required for a bar of chocolate.
In doing so they get a headline but ignore the substance.
The common standards agreed on cocoa content for chocolate, or noise-levels for lawnmowers, enabled British chocolate and British lawnmowers to be sold throughout the single market.
They were achievements for Britain, not defeats.
Governments and parliaments do too much simply because they can.
Westminster is no exception.
The EU would better reflect its peoples’ priorities if it stuck to legislating only where necessary.
And President Barroso’s recent Better Regulation in the Commission is a clear step in the right direction.
It aims to simplify regulation and reduce administrative burdens significantly, not least by repealing unhelpful legislation
These are welcome steps.
But the EU should be willing to go even further in that direction.
I recently made a speech advocating a Joint Legislative Committee for Westminster to consider repealing anachronistic, unworkable and unnecessary legislation.
I also suggested that Ministers should be obliged to consider whether to apply a sunset clause to new legislation when it is passing through the parliamentary process.
Why doesn’t the EU consider whether a variant of this approach would reduce the legislative burden that it creates?
Red tape limits freedom, stifles business, and undermines the EU’s public standing.
In parenthesis, this is also true of the “goldplating” that the UK government all too often adds to EU directives.
The EU should always be on the look out for ways to cut red tape, and restore faith in the policy process.
Nor should reform be limited to the quantity of legislation passed.
It should apply to the type of legislation too.
The time is right to ask:
“What should the EU do?”
We need a Powers Audit of the European Union.
And that Audit should take place on the basis of a simple principle:
Only where issues are most effectively addressed by collective action, should the EU act.
But for those issues best decided at national or local level, then that is where power should rest.
The EU has endorsed this principle.
But it has not always practiced it.
I have no preconceptions about what the recommendations of a Power Audit would be.
But are there are a number of areas in which the EU currently legislates, which might be better dealt with by member states?
Should we not be willing to challenge orthodoxy?
In regional policy.
In social policy.
And in agricultural policy.
I merely pose the question.
The Common Agricultural Policy remains the single largest expense within the EU budget.
There have been welcome reforms in recent years.
There has been a new priority of breaking the link between funding and production.
And there has been progress towards the removal of subsidies on exports, and the reduction of tariffs on some imports.
But there should be further changes.
The 2008-09 review of the EU budget provides a good opportunity to push for additional reform of the CAP – in line with the EU’s stated aim of supporting free markets.
Let me make three suggestions.
First, with regard to the break between funding and production, that the policy should be extended to cover those states that were granted an exemption from it.
Second, there should be a limit of three hundred thousand euros per individual or company benefiting from the CAP.
The money that would therefore be saved in each member state should then be returned to that state.
And third, that there should be a movement away from the direct payment of farmers towards funding activity that achieves environmental goals and sustainability for rural communities.
These changes offer a route to cutting subsidy levels, whilst also encouraging sustainability of production, which is clearly important in member states.
The CAP has traditionally been regarded as an example of European protectionism.
It is right that we are moving away from that model.
But with the Democrats back in control of the United States Congress international protectionism may have strong proponents.
But protectionism is bad for Britain, and bad for Europe.
And where we find it, it is the duty of liberals to oppose it.
It is by decentralising power, and focusing on genuinely cross-border issues, that Europe can focus on being more effective in such areas.
Globalisation presents British citizens with wonderful opportunities.
But it means that things once best dealt with by sovereign states are now more effectively dealt with by international organisations.
This is Europe as the solution.
Now there are other areas where Europe should do more.
I’ve talked about foreign policy.
But there are other obvious areas.
Securing and liberalising European energy markets.
Reinforcing and policing the Union’s borders against organised crime.
And changing the behaviour that causes climate change.
This is the biggest moral challenge facing the world today.
It is essential for countries to work together in order to make the biggest possible impact on preventing damage to the environment.
Because carbon emissions have no respect for national borders.
And the EU has a proud record of collective action on the international stage: not least through its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol.
But, as the recent Stern Report makes clear, much more must be done.
The EU is ideally placed to lead the effort.
I am hopeful that Germany’s presidency in the first half of next year will show real advances.
In 2012, the Kyoto agreement will expire.
New and ambitious carbon emissions targets must be negotiated for the period up to 2020.
And the European Union should be at the forefront of that process.
By working together, European countries can lead the assault on carbon emissions.
And we can increase the moral obligation on others to follow suit.
But this time the EU could go further to ensure that each member is helped to meet its carbon emissions reduction target.
We could consider establishing an independent authority to allocate a carbon quota for each state.
This would be appropriate to the individual state’s post-Kyoto emissions allowance.
They would then be free to trade these quotas between themselves as part of the Emissions Trading Scheme.
The emissions permits currently issued by nation states should be more strictly set by the EU in order to ensure that emissions levels are significantly cut.
A significant proportion should be auctioned, rather than freely allocated according to current need.
This will serve as an incentive for energy producers to invest in more sustainable capacity.
And there should be consideration of whether freight transport, shipping and aviation could be included.
A strengthened Emissions Trading Scheme will be of real benefit to the environment.
It will change polluters’ behaviour, encourage greater energy efficiency, and lead to greater investment in green technology.
The EU should encourage large scale polluters such as China, India and the United States to join such a scheme.
But we should proceed whether or not others choose to join us.
The pace of emission reduction cannot be set by the most reluctant players.
Taken together, our proposals for reducing the EU’s regulatory burden, and our Powers Audit, would significantly change the way that the EU operates.
The rejection of the proposed EU Constitution by French and Dutch voters has caused uncertainty about the future of the EU.
But it has also offered an opportunity to consider alternative reforms.
The 2007 German and Portuguese presidencies will be pivotal for the future of the EU’s institutions.
If the rejection of the Constitution is to teach us anything, it is that Europe’s future must reflect the priorities of the people of Europe.
Any further institutional reform must do the same.
European citizens want an EU which does what is necessary, and does it well.
That is the way to restore faith in the European Union.
This is truly Europe as the solution.