Cook launches mission to make fresh start with Europe

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Taking the reins of his new job swiftly and firmly in hand, Robin Cook is planning an unprecedented "Mission Statement" to Britain's diplomats next week, aimed at motivating his staff and setting out the new foreign policy priorities of the Blair government.

After four hectic days of meetings and briefings in London, the first Labour Foreign Secretary in 18 years today makes his first foray into Europe, with brief visits to Paris and Bonn. He will hold talks with his French and German opposite numbers, as well as Lionel Jospin and Oskar Lafontaine, the leaders of the two countries' socialist opposition parties, ahead of a special meeting of European foreign ministers in Brussels in a fortnight.

Mr Cook will project Britain's desire for a new start in relations with Europe, soured by years of stonewalling from the Conservatives. His long-desired message to foreign ministers Herve de Charette and Klaus Kinkel will be that the new Labour administration is ready to be more flexible over matters such as majority voting and a greater role for the Strasbourg parliament.

"A change in tone and some change in substance," was how officials described the new approach.

The trip to France and Germany raises the curtain on a bone-breaking schedule for Mr Cook over the next seven weeks of summits and ministerial meetings involving the EU, Nato, G-7, the WEU and the OECD. It will be capped by the Hong Kong handover ceremony at the end of June. In between he hopes to visit Washington.

A first unveiling of how Labour intends to run foreign policy comes next week with a personal address by the Foreign Secretary to his staff. Then a film of Mr Cook setting forth his goals will be made by Sir David Putnam, to be sent to British missions around the world.

Mr Cook wants greater representation of women and ethnic minorities at senior diplomatic levels and greater openness to the media.

He will place new emphasis on global environmental issues, the reinvigoration of the UN and human rights. Measures may well include strict curbs on arms exports to offending regimes. Nigeria and Burma are obvious candidates. On arms control and a new round of reductions in nuclear weapons, a Labour government also may be much more activist than its Tory predecessor.