Though his Tory friends try not to hear it, Mr Sikorski's message is consistently and unashamedly pro-European. He uses words and sentiments that are rarely heard in Britain now (only the Lib Dems are unabashedly europhile, and even they tend to keep quiet about it). He told his audience at Blenheim Palace. "I believe in the logic and justice of the modern European project. And my country, Poland, will do its utmost to help it succeed."Related link: Sikorski in Oxford (again) ~ The Economist
He pointed out that half of Britain's exports go to the EU, that the much-maligned European Convention on Human Rights is nothing to do with the EU (and also a British creation); that the cost to Britain of EU membership is trivial (£15 per person per year by his calculation, against £1,500-£3,500 in benefits from the single market), that the European Commission's 33,000 staff is tiny by comparison to any national bureaucracy; that EU rules are not "Brussels diktats" but proposed, and agreed, by the member states; that only one-sixteenth of UK primary legislation stems from EU decisions; and, perhaps most importantly, that the EU is a hugely important force in keeping markets open and competitive. He didn't mention its current assault on Gazprom.
He attacked the two options favoured by British Eurosceptics. A negotiated free trade zone would not be a simple replacement for full membership, he warned:
Don’t count on it. Many European states would hold a grudge against a country which, in their view, had selfishly left the EU. While you are an important market for the rest of the EU, accounting for about 11% of the rest of the EU’s trade, your trade with the EU is 50% of your total trade. No prizes for guessing who would have the upper hand in such a negotiation. Any free trade agreement would have a price. In exchange for the privilege of access to the Single Market, Norway and Switzerland make major contributions to the EU’s cohesion funds. They also have to adopt EU standards – without having any say in how they are written. At the moment, Norway’s net contribution to the EU budget is actually higher, per capita, than Britain’s.He also attacked the more explicit eurosceptic notion, that Britain would regain its international clout outside the EU. To that he said:
So think hard: the EU is a market of 500 million people who enjoy the highest average standard of living in the world. According to the IMF and the World Bank, Europe’s GDP is about 2.5 times than that of China and nine times that of India. Do you want to lose your privileged access to that market?
Yes, the UK outside the EU would have more freedom of manoeuvre, in a number of significant respects. But the UK would be less powerful and less free. Certainly Britain would lose its influence in many international forums. By negotiating as one bloc in world trade talks, the European Union gives all of us, the UK included, a powerful and united voice to use when speaking to China and the USA. If you leave, you lose that. Let me quote from the findings of a report prepared in 2011 for Business, Innovation and Skills Committee in the House of Commons , I quote ‘We recognize the fact that the UK's influence on the WTO can only be exercised through its membership of the European Union’.He continued:
Britain standing alone would suffer not only on multilateral level. Are you sure that you will command the same kind of attention in, say, Kuala Lumpur, Lagos and Bogota? What about Washington? At the moment, your hosts know that you speak on behalf of London and have an influence to shape decisions taken in Brussels on behalf of the whole continent as well. Alone, you won’t be so interesting.
The EU is an English-speaking power. The Single Market was a British idea. A British commissioner runs our diplomatic service. You could, if only you wished, lead Europe’s defence policy. But if you refuse, please don’t expect us to help you wreck or paralyze the EU. Do not underestimate our determination not to return to the politics of the 20 century. You were not occupied. Most of us on the continent were. We will do almost anything to prevent that from happening again.And concluded:
It's not difficult to see why. Poland wants to be with Germany and France as partners, leading a strong, democratic European political-economic space. We do not want to be a buffer between Western Europe and a less democratic Eurasian political-economic space dominated by Russia.
More importantly, we believe the Eurozone will survive, because it is its members interest for it to survive. The leaders of Europe will step up operational integration at the European level. The new institutional arrangements within the EU will be different. But eventually they’ll be strong. They'll work because Europe’s leaders want them to work. And be careful what you read in your tabloids: No country has benefitted more from the single currency than Germany.
Since I first came to these shores over 30 years ago, Britain has become much more European. You’ve built the Channel-Tunnel, you got used to mixer taps, duvets and double glazing. Even your cooking has improved. Yet, your public opinion and politics is more Eurosceptic than ever. And I think I can guess why: Marxists at those Balliol tutorials [one-on-one teaching sessions at Oxford colleges: Mr Sikorski was at Pembroke Collegue but had tutorials in some subjects at Balliol] taught me the term “false consciousness” which is when the ideological superstructure is out of sync with the economic base. Britain today is living with false consciousness. Your interests are in Europe. It’s high time for your sentiments to follow.
Your leaders need to make a more vocal case for your European interests. Britain is famous through the ages for its practical good sense and policies based on reality, not myths. We hope you can return to this tradition soon.
Monday, September 24, 2012
A really interesting post on the Economist highlighting Poland's foreign minister, Radek Sikorski's speech combating British Euroscepticism.