Europe minister attacks 'elitist, out of touch' EU

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Indy Politics

Peter Hain, the minister for Europe, has launched an attack on the European Union, describing it as "élitist" and out of touch with ordinary people.

Writing in The Independent, Mr Hain calls on the European Commission and its member politicians to stop talking in "Eurobabble" which, he says, is "virtually unintelligible to a new Europe minister like me, let alone an average voter".

He also reveals plans for a new, less confrontational approach to the EU from the Government. He says that Britain's politicians and media must stop portraying Europe stories "in confrontational and simplistic language" and should not be "trapped in a time-warp caricature of doughty Britons versus fiendish foreigners".

Mr Hain's comments mark the start of a campaign by ministers to turn round public hostility to the EU. They admit the voters can hardly be blamed for doubting the EU's merits unless the Government displays more confidence in the Union and in winning arguments inside it. Ministers believe that a more "grown up" debate would also help them win a single currency referendum if Tony Blair decides to call one.

In his first speech since becoming minister for Europe last month, Mr Hain will spell out the new approach tonight in a lecture to Progress, an organisation set up to foster debate between the Labour leadership and grassroots members.

He says: "It is not inevitable that, in European negotiations, British ministers must be either trapped and weak in isolation or crowing in victory. Why should we allow every European gathering, every issue that confronts us, to be presented in such juvenile terms in media coverage or parliamentary debate? The world has moved on since Margaret Thatcher hung up her handbag. It is time for the media to move on too – beyond a sort of Basil Fawlty approach to Europe, 'Don't mention the benefits'."

His message is also directed at EU bureaucrats, amid concern at the remoteness of institutions raised by Ireland's "no" vote in its referendum on the Nice Treaty.

He says: "We need plain language, not Eurobabble understood only by an élite. At European Union summits, politicians and journalists are trapped in a security-cordoned bubble talking to each other. Then they talk the same summit-speak to a perplexed world." He has called for the EU to build " a Europe of the people, not a Europe of the élites".

Insisting that he is neither a Eurosceptic nor a pro-EU zealot, Mr Hain describes himself a "practical European", like the British people. He says that an EU superstate "isn't going to happen". He says: "Within minutes of my appointment last month, I was dubbed a 'Eurosceptic'. Yet by background and conviction there is nobody less a 'little Englander' in the Government than me." He added: "Nowhere has British policy development and public debate been more crippled by language and labels than on Europe."

Mr Hain's speech was cleared in advance by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, who is widely seen as a sceptic on the single currency. "We agree with every word of it," said a Treasury source. Downing Street, the Foreign Office and the Treasury are working hard to prevent a repeat of the tensions over Europe policy that surfaced during Mr Blair's first term.