Denis MacShane: There is light at the end of the European tunnel

As UK growth slows, there is growing realisation that we may be all in this together

Share
Related Topics

The economic story is bad compared to the US. Like Russia of the Sputnik era, when Khrushchev promised to bury the West, the sudden appearance of Chinese graduates by the million are invoked to prove that it is game over for Europe's social market economy.

The politics appear even worse. The Germans fail to chose a clear government. France has not one but two dauphins hoping to inherit the throne in the Elysée. Italy rewinds to the 1990s to put up Romano Prodi as the nation's new saviour. The Poles elect a president who wants to see capital punishment restored and wants to take on Berlin and Moscow simultaneously. In Britain, new anti-EU campaign groups open store, while Britain in Europe shuts shop. The new Tory leader-in-waiting announces he wants the Conservatives to break all links with their fellow right-wingers in Europe.

The Nonistes - those who say No to Europe are everywhere. No to the constitution. No to opening up trade in services. No to Peter Mandelson negotiating a deal on world trade.

And yet, in the midst of this enduring negativity about Europe, something is stirring. Six months ago it was taboo for a British minister to say the rebate was negotiable, or that Europe needed an energy policy or support for workers displaced by globalisation.

Now Tony Blair has rewritten the Whitehall lexicon on Europe. He has made clear the rebate can go provided the whole of the EU budget is reshaped with no off-limits areas for the agro-protectionists. When Margaret Thatcher told the Commons she had obtained the rebate in 1984, she reported to MPs that Britain had won the prize "because we are seen as very pro-European". Mr Blair is showing, at last, some real pro-European leg.

This week he told MEPs that Europe needs an energy policy. Who wants a politics of every-nation-for-itself in any energy crisis this winter? He has endorsed a long-standing demand for an EU solidarity fund to help workers displaced by globalisation. He has hailed the EU military missions overseas and EU diplomacy in handling Iran - all the more actuel given the Iranian government's new threat to relaunch the Holocaust against Israel. Energy, helping workers and EU foreign policy were all previously red lines for Whitehall.

From avian flu to immigration, the facts of modernity are plunging a dagger into the heart of the Eurosceptic arguments denigrating the EU and promoting the nation über alles line of the Rothermere columnists. The Turkish and Croatian premiers attended Hampton Court. Soon the blue flag of Europe with will be seen in every corner of the Balkans and Turkey.

Blair is using Tippex to white out the red lines that have always left Britain lagging rather than leading in Europe. Despite the sermons and occasional bluster from London about how the rest of Europe should embrace Britishness, the powerful arguments that ministers can make have not been heard because of the widespread impression that Whitehall was more obsessed with defending its red lines than in being an effective networker or team-player in Europe.

As British growth slows to French levels, there is growing realisation that we may be all in this together. High unemployment and low growth, especially in Italy and Germany, eat into British economic prospects. Germany, after all, is the second biggest purchaser of what we make in Britain after the US.

The notion that Britain can stand tall in the good ship Europe while others are half under water no longer makes sense. Getting Europe moving again - economically and politically - is now about British prosperity and national survival in a world of fast-moving change in terms of trade, demography, societal, cultural and religious upheavals.

The old pro- and anti-EU debates are out of date. Britain needs to accept its full responsibility as a leader in changing Europe. Mr Blair appears to have accepted that challenge. But if Hampton Court and his speeches to MEPs are stand-alone events and Whitehall rediscovers the pleasures of red lines, then it will be business as usual. Pro-Europeans need to rediscover their confidence, their energy and their style. Europe needs a networking Britain and Whitehall and Westminster should help to reinvent the European Union before it is too late.

The writer was Europe Minister 2002-2005

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron has reiterated his pre-election promise to radically improve the NHS  

How can we save the NHS? Rediscover the stiff upper lip

Jeremy Laurance
 

Thanks to Harriet Harman, Labour is holding its own against the Tory legislative assault

Isabel Hardman
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor