Labour to launch new 'Euro-friendly' party image

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR will this week stake out Labour as the "Euro-friendly" party in a move to sharpen political differences with the Conservatives.

A policy document to the party conference in Brighton proposes greater powers for the European Parliament, voting reforms in the Council of Ministers to allow faster development of the European Union, and a European Recovery Fund to tackle unemployment.

The report, The Future of the European Union, is to be debated on Tuesday and is certain to be endorsed. Robin Cook, shadow foreign secretary, will map out Labour's most enthusiastic embrace of Europe since it ditched hostility to the former EEC 10 years ago.

A confidential final draft of the report, approved by Labour's national executive last week, says: "Labour believes that to succeed in addressing the serious challenges that confront us the European Union must be more than a free trade area. That does not mean that we will sign up to a European federal superstate. On the contrary, we seek a ... union of independent states coming together because they share common interests, not because they want to submerge themselves in a single European government."

The document points out that 17.5 million people are unemployed in Europe today, five million of them under the age of 25. The party wants a European Recovery Fund which would run a deficit during periods of recession to raise cash for infrastructure and training projects.

Labour will sign up to the Social Chapter to give British employees the same rights in law as other workers: "Without agreed minimum standards and guaranteed employment rights across Europe, rogue companies will seek to gain an unfair competitive advantage by driving down wages and conditions in successive rounds of 'social devaluation'."

On enlargement, Labour argues that the EU should welcome all European countries able and willing to join. It calls for a "political area", similar to the European economic area, to allow prospective member states to take part in political deliberations prior to full economic integration.

While supporting the general principle of economic and monetary union, the report sidesteps the problem of a single currency.

The party promises to retain Britain's veto, but says it should not be a "trump card to be played repeatedly at every trick". It wants an extension of qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers and says Euro MPs should have greater power. For instance, by an absolute majority the Parliament should have the power to oblige the Commission to propose legislation to the Council of Ministers. It should also have the power to sack commissioners.

The report says a Labour government would implement a thorough overhaul of the system of European scrutiny; ministerial appearances before select committees should be used to increase accountability.

On defence, it says Labour is committed to Nato as the instrument of collective defence in Europe, adding: "Labour also recognises that... the US will not always be willing or able to commit military forces in response to threats to European interests. It is desirable, therefore, that the nations of Europe develop a capacity to coordinate military operations." But Labour does not support the establishment of a European army.

Labour would not change Conservative policies on immigration: "Partly because of our island geography and historical patterns of migration and border controls, and partly because of its secretive nature, Labour does not believe Britain should participate in the [open-frontiers] Schengen Agreement."

Overall, Labour promises: "In government we will adopt a pragmatic approach. We will act to defend and advance our national interests in Europe. We will seek to reform the institutions of Europe where we consider that to be necessary. But unlike the Tories we will act in accordance with our positive vision of Europe."

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