Podium: Britons should be more confident

Peter Mandelson From the Hartlepool MP's Centre for European Reform/ `Prospect' lecture delivered in Brussels
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The Independent Culture
IN BRITAIN, there is a tendency to look at everything the EU does as win or lose for the UK. In contrast, our partners are better at seeing the EU as a common enterprise. This does not stop them pursuing national interests vigorously and, in the past, they have done so with greater success than Britain, not least for this reason - that they behave as if the EU is a common enterprise rather than a conspiracy to rob them of their nationhood.

When the British Conservatives shout: "In Europe but not run by Europe," that is essentially defensive. We should be more confident and assertive. Do the French and Germans think there is a chance that they will be run by Europe? Or the Spanish and Italians that they will have their culture and identity swept away? Of course not. So why should we - especially when this mentality means we get our way less, and fail to get more out of Europe than we could.

It seems amazing to me that anyone in Britain should be insecure about their identity. After all, we are such a strong, distinctive and independent nation. Yet, just as people can feel British and Scottish at the same time, so they can feel British and European. After all, that is what Britishness - cultural richness and diversity - is all about, together with the values we all share that motivate us much more than mechanisms and institutions ever will.

That, too, is the central point about Europe. It is not the creation of a superstate that binds us. It is the existence of common goals - jobs, prosperity, improved quality of life, peace and security - together with a belief in the shared values of democracy and the rights of the individual, a commitment to free enterprise as well as to fairness, social justice and equal opportunity.

It is these shared values that make it possible for us to share sovereignty where we choose to, in the knowledge that we are setting aside the weaker sovereignty of the individual state for the stronger sovereignty to bring about real change that will benefit us all.

The Eurosceptics may rail against this concept of shared values and common goals, but what is their alternative? What precisely is the Conservatives' vision of British strength? We know they define being pro-British as being anti-European and close to America.

But if Britain withdrew from Europe the first relationships to suffer as a consequence would be those with the US, as American companies, inward investment and trade looked to the continental Eurozone in preference to a Britain isolated and cut off from Europe's burgeoning single market.

We would not long survive on our own, and the influence we had in Washington would soon dry up. I bow to no one in my desire to see the closest possible relationship between Europe and North America but it is a delusion to imagine that Britain could maintain that relationship without being a fully committed member of the EU. Indeed, I have no doubt that if Britain detached itself from Europe the cement that holds Nato together would start to crumble, with grave repercussions for our security in Europe and the world.

It is for all these reasons that the correct position for Britain is to be pro-Europe and proreform in Europe. We want a Europe in which Britain can feel at home. There is so much for Britain to contribute. Our world- wide reach, active engagement in international affairs and commitment to free trade; our financial centre and services; our flexible labour and capital markets; our modern ideas on the role of the State and new ways of tackling social exclusion; our environmental approach and the ideas we have for combating crime; and, of course, our defence capabilities and preparedness to fight for what we believe in.

I have no doubt that, in the years ahead, as we advance the case for Britain in Europe, we will face many emotionally charged arguments that seek to isolate Britain. For good or ill, I know our European partners never cease to see us as anything but British. It will come as no surprise since we see them as French, German, Italian, Spanish, just as much! And that is how it should be.

Being in Europe is not about submerging ourselves in Europe. It is about being secure in Europe, prospering in Europe, living safely in Europe and enjoying a high quality of life in Europe. It is about being ambitious for Europe. You can have all those things and retain your national identity in Europe - but only through political integration where it is useful and beneficial.

I have absolutely no doubt that as the argument continues to be put, it will appeal to the practical, pragmatic good sense of the British people. I only hope that we have as much success with everyone else!

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