Major lays down gauntlet for his enterprise culture

Prime Minister renews attack on social chapter
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The Independent Online
Entering the lion's den, John Major last night chose Brussels as the venue for a fierce attack on the European "social model", proclaiming Britain as the "enterprise capital" of Europe.

Mr Major attacked the social chapter as a "Trojan Horse", congratulating himself on his refusal to sign the legislation at Maastricht. "The British government has made up its mind. Our enterprise economy is not negotiable," he said.

At the same time, Mr Major condemned those who describ-ed Britain as a "sweat-shop economy", accusing them of using "overblown language". Britain has created 900,000 new jobs in the past four years, he said.

The Prime Minister insisted it was in Britain's interest to see Europe succeed. But, he argued, it could only do so if it accepted lessons from Britain's "enterprise model".

"I believe Britain can help shape a Europe in which business can prosper. We are willing to play that role. It is in our interest to do so - and in Europe's interest as well."

Mr Major's Brussels visit was his first trip to the capital for nearly two years, and was staged as part of the Government's drive to take its message on Europe "to Europe".

The decision to focus his attack on the social chapter and the European "social model" was clearly designed to put the Labour Party on the defensive. Labour has indicated it will sign up to the social chapter if elected.

Mr Major also used his Brussels speech as a chance to renew his attack on the EU 48-hour working week direcive. However, other member states, where most workers already work far less than 48 hours, have no argument with the directive.

The speech, to European businessmen, invited by the right-wing European Policy Forum, focused solely on the issue of competitivness and job creation, avoiding the more contentious subjects of monetary union or European reform.

Seeking to persuade Europeans that Britain's attitude to Europe is not all negative, the Prime Minister argued that Europe should find a new goal, now that the European Union had ensured that war was no longer thinkable.

"Peace is the prize that the project of Europe has won," said Mr Major. Now Europe faced a "new historic challenge - how to keep companies competitetive and our people in work in the face of global competition. Prosperity - that aim which every politician shares - depends on winning in that world."

Mr Major then attacked his European partners for pursuing policies which create unemployment. Many countries are now having to make "Herculean efforts" to bring public spending under control, which Britain did long ago, he said.

European over-regulation is damaging growing industry, he said. "Over- regulation doesn't work. And, as a result, nor do millions of Europeans."

Focusing on the social chapter, Mr Major asked: "How is job creation helped by centralised, legally binding agreements between employers and trade unions? By mandatory works councils? Compulsory parental leave? What jobs does that create? What orders does it win?"

The Prime Minister argued that Britain has carried out deregulation without threatening social provision or equal opportunity. He also insisted that claims that social legislation is necessary to protect workers from job insecurity is "simplistic and unrealistic".

Andrew Marr, page 15