David Miliband yesterday delivered the kind of speech that is too seldom heard in British politics; a speech that made a strong and unambiguous case for a greater role for the European Union on the global stage. As the Foreign Secretary argued, it is in Britain's "national interest" to see the EU develop a strong foreign policy.
It was a forward-looking analysis. In a future that will be dominated by the two economic giants of China and the United States, relatively small nations such as Britain will struggle to be heard on their own. The institutions of Europe provide us with a potential megaphone. Britain would also benefit from the existence of an EU that punches its weight when it comes to preventing nuclear proliferation, dealing with Russia or confronting rogue states.
Just as pleasing was the fact that Mr Miliband's speech contained none of the talk of "red lines" or the "us and them" rhetoric that has so often been used by politicians of all stripes to define the relationship between Brussels and London. As Mr Miliband argued, "to be frightened of European foreign policy is blinkered, fatalistic and wrong. Britain should embrace it, shape it and lead European foreign policy."
Such an engagement would complement our longstanding diplomatic relationship with America, rather than undermine it. All the indications are that the Obama Administration wants Britain to be a constructive player in Europe, rather than the obstructive force it so often has been in the past. Mr Miliband appears to have read the signals from Washington rather better than the Conservatives, who seem to want to opt out of the European mainstream
At the weekend Mr Miliband denied that he is interested in the meaty post of "High Representative for Foreign Affairs" for the EU, which the Lisbon Treaty will create. We shall have to take this denial at face value. Nevertheless, that position will not be filled for several months - possibly not until after a British general election. One thing is clear: if circumstances were to change for Mr Miliband, yesterday's speech would be regarded by many as an impressive job application.Reuse content