David Miliband travelled yesterday to the Belgian city where Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech which became the creed of Euroscepticism, to set out the Government's own vision for Europe.
Although it was no hand-bagging, the Foreign Secretary took his stand in Bruges on Baroness Thatcher's ideological territory , saying that in 1988 she had been "haunted by demons: a European superstate bringing in socialism by the back door".
In his own presentation, Mr Miliband lowered the Government's European ambitions by saying that the EU "is not, and is not going to become, a superstate – but neither is it destined to become a superpower".
"An EU of 27 nation states or more is never going to have the fleetness of foot or the fiscal base to dominate," he said in his first major speech on European policy since his appointment. "There is only one superpower in the world today – the United States."
But he added: "The EU has the opportunity to be a model power. It can chart a course for regional co-operation between medium-sized and small countries." He identified these as the countries of the Maghreb, the Middle East and eastern Europe which could join in a "multilateral free-trade zone around our periphery".
Europe's top priority should be "to keep our promises on enlargement", Mr Miliband said. He backed Turkish membership of the bloc, warning: "If we fail to keep our promises to Turkey, it will signal a deep and dangerous divide between east and west."
Mr Miliband argued that Europe should be "open to the world" to deal with the challenges of the 21st century which were "global in scope not national". Issues such as religious extremism, climate change and energy security would comprise future threats, he said.
Mr Miliband offered an olive branch to Russia – despite British relations with Moscow being at their lowest point since the Cold War after the poisoning in London of the former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko – by expressing support for Russia and Ukraine joining the World Trade Organisation.
He also demonstrated the Government's green credentials, calling for a "European carbon bank" which could set limits on the production of carbon throughout Europe. "Any model power in the 21st century must be a low-carbon power, so the European Union must become an environmental union," he added.
On security, Mr Miliband voiced a familiar British complaint about the lack of available European airlift capacity to deal with military needs around the world, including Afghanistan and Darfur. He also said it was time to "overcome the blockages to collaboration with Nato".
The Foreign Secretary was criticised for fighting a battle that the Government has already won in talks about the EU treaty, by continuing to insist that Britain would not countenance Europe becoming a superstate.
"The British are still arguing about the threat of a superstate but the problem is that Britain is not sufficiently engaged in Europe," said Simon Tilford, of the Centre for European Reform.
He contended that one speech by Mr Miliband in Europe was not enough to conceal the fact that Gordon Brown has not made a single visit to Brussels as Prime Minister, while his Chancellor, Alistair Darling, has attended only one finance ministers' meeting.Reuse content