Blair calls for ‘radical reform’ of EU institutions

Published on Monday, 02 June 2014 13:11
Written by Daniel Mason

The European election results - in particular the success of Ukip and the French National Front - should be a wake-up call for mainstream politics across the continent, Tony Blair has said.

But he insisted that "anyone in the real world" knew it would be "folly" for Britain to leave the EU.

The former prime minister argued that Britain's responsibility was to "lead not follow" in reforming Europe rather than merely attempting to renegotiate its own relationship with the bloc.

The speech came as Blair denied touting himself as a potential new president of the European council - a post he was linked to when it was first created but which eventually went to Herman Van Rompuy.

David Cameron has promised to renegotiate the UK's membership of the EU and hold an in or out referendum in 2017 if the Conservatives win next year's general elections,

Blair said that even among pro-Europeans there was now "keen sense" that it was time for the EU to "think carefully about where it goes from here, how it reconnects with the concerns of its citizens and how it changes in order better to realise its ideals in a changing world".

It is true that there is still a majority for a pro-Europe position but it would be "complacent and therefore dangerous" not to accept the need for change," he argued. "Whatever the correct interpretation of last week's vote, it was not a vote for the status quo," he said.

Blair said that the economic crisis in the eurozone, coupled with a sense that the EU "does too much of what it need not do, and too little of what it must do" had led to a "perfect confluence of dissatisfaction that seems to define Europe today".

Speaking at the London Business School for the CBI, the former prime minister insisted that the rationale for the EU "stronger than ever". "Together the nations of Europe can wield genuine influence and weight. Alone, they will decline in relative importance."

But he argued for "radical reform" of the European institutions to make them "more accountable and close to those they govern". "This will mean a closer union, but that closeness may not be expressed exactly as it is today."

In policy areas such as climate change, illegal immigration, science and technology, and organised crime "Europe should focus not on the process for making decisions but on the decisions themselves," Blair said.

"What is it that we want Europe to do to make people better off, more secure, more confident about their future? Instead of trying to bring Europe 'closer to the people' by an endless introspective dialogue about the institutional relationships within Europe

"Bring it close by concentrating on measurable outcomes that affect the lives and living standards of people."

On what he described as the "folly" of Britain potentially leaving the EU, Blair said: "The economic arguments are powerful and resonate. Anyone in the real world knows that though we would survive, we would be less economically attractive to the outside world."

He claimed that it was "not those who argue that Britain should be in Europe who are at odds with our nation's history, but those who under a false banner of independence".

And he added that it was no coincidence that anti-Europe parties were also anti-immigrant. They represent within the UK as elsewhere, a strain of politics. It is one that ebbs and flows somewhat; but it is ever present beneath or above the surface.

"Its defining characteristic is a belief that a nation's identity consists in a sense of belonging to a group of similar look, culture, history and interests. They regard a world that brings change in established patterns of these things as essentially a threat."

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