European choices for Gordon Brown

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

UK Prime Minster Gordon Brown should work to dispel the ‘demonic myths’ that have ‘poisoned’ Britain’s relationship with the EU, a new Centre for European Reform (CER) booklet claims.

Gordon Brown should seek to maintain and strengthen British influence in the Union, as his decisions will have a major impact on the course that the EU takes, the authors argue. 

The disappearance of Blair, Chirac and Schröder from the scene means that permanent fissures in the European landscape – over Iraq and much else – are now history, the authors argue. Enlargement has changed the dynamics of EU politics in the UK’s favour, they believe. Ten years of a Labour government have left the UK with strong foundations for its European policy, and Brown’s government is well-placed to strengthen the UK’s position in the EU. 

The EU is changing fast in ways that suit Britain, giving Brown a chance to share the leadership of Europe, reshape the way in which the EU works, and transform Britain’s own European debate, the CER booklet claims. It argues that Britain should pursue a strategy of constructive engagement in Europe, under a new rationale of dealing with issues such as climate change, energy security, illegal immigration and international terrorism at European level. Such a strategy would not only improve Britain’s reputation in Europe, but also Europe’s reputation in Britain, the authors claim. 

Brown has a golden opportunity to work with Merkel, Sarkozy and Barroso in shaping the future of EU politics, states the booklet – as all four are Atlanticist, lean towards economic liberalism, and are pragmatic in their approach to the EU institutions. However, he will come under strong pressure from a resurgent Conservative Party and much of the press to block a new EU treaty, the authors observe. 

The booklet reaches a number of conclusions: 

  • First, a post-Blair European policy should continue to solidly support EU enlargement and economic liberalisation, offer leadership in European defence, and pursue a non-ideological approach to institutions. 
  • Second, Brown should seek to enhance British influence in setting the EU agenda and shaping its decisions. Specifically, the authors suggest that the UK should place a greater emphasis on the Union’s role in tackling climate change, work to ensure the EU makes a stronger effort to forge effective foreign policies on the Middle East and Russia, and push for more co-operation among law-enforcement agencies. Its size, the strength of its economy, the quality of its officials and ministers, and the influence of British-based media – such as the Economist, the BBC, Reuters and the Financial Times – make it well-placed to do this, they argue. 
  • Third, they add that the UK should welcome greater use of “variable geometry” in EU institutional arrangements, work to find new ways of binding neighbours to the Union more closely, and collaborate with Sarkozy’s France in building an EU that is friendly to the US and offers practical help in dealing with global problems. 
  • Fourth, Brown should seek to persuade the British people that the EU is a very useful body, that it suffers from serious flaws, and that these flaws can be reformed. 

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