Right of Reply

The Minister for Europe defends the Government's presidency of the European Union
SIX MONTHS ago, Tony Blair launched Britain's presidency of the European Union at Waterloo station. He set out an ambitious agenda under the slogan of "giving Europe back to the people". It included two steps that would profoundly change the nature of Europe: enlargement and Economic and Monetary Union.

First, enlargement. We said we would get this off to a good start, and we have done so. We brought all the applicants into an inclusive process in which they can each move at their own speed to membership. Now, the prospect of a re-united continent is considerably closer.

Next, EMU. We made clear early on that Britain was not going to be in the single currency at the start. But we did say we would do everything we could to ensure a successful launch. The Summit could have been smoother, but the result was an effective launch for the euro, reflected by the markets' positive response.

We have made progress in moving Europe closer to the people on subjects they care about. Our presidency has seen agreement on a series of measures. Some are well known: a ban on drift-net fishing that should help to protect dolphins, and a first step to high standards for Europe's arms exports. Others will become better known, such as the agreement to create a single market for the next generation of mobile phones.

Six months is not a long time in the EU. Change is slow. We have made good, workmanlike progress. But Britain's standing has been transformed. There are few doubts that we are a committed and innovative partner in Europe. That is good for Britain and for Europe.