Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Nick Clegg helps to mend European fences

From the Leader of the Liberal Democrat ELDR Council Delegation

Nick Clegg hosted a meeting of European Liberal Ministers, Party Leaders and Commissioners in London yesterday at Admiralty House. This was a party political event organised by and held under the aegis of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform party (ELDR). It was entirely funded by ELDR and approved by propriety and ethics in the Cabinet Office.


This is the first time in years where this sort of meeting has been held. Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, has offered to host another such meeting later this year.

The two key themes of the meeting were (i) the need for EU unity at this difficult time and (ii) a call for an urgent and ambitious European jobs and growth plan.

This is reflected in the attached joint statement that was agreed and signed by the participants.

This includes:

- 2 Prime Ministers - Netherlands (Rutte) & Estonia (Ansip).
- 4 Deputy Prime Ministers - UK (Clegg), Sweden (Bjorkland), Finland (Wallin) and Belgium (Van Quickenborne).
- 4 European Commissioners - Economics & Monetary Affairs (Olli Rehn), Trade (De Gucht), Home Affairs (Malmstrom), and Education and Cultural Affairs (Vassilliou).
- ALDE Group Leader in the European Parliament (Verhofstadt) and others.

Margrethe Vestager (DPM Denmark) would also have signed, but as Denmark have the EU Presidency at the moment, they need to retain public neutrality.

To be clear, and in the unlikely event that parts of the UK media/ Commons interpret this incorrectly, the text includes a call for the new intergovernmental treaty which is currently under discussion at present (UK as an observer to the talks among the other EU-26) to be:

- Focused on fiscal/ budgetary matters - if the scope of the treaty is widened to allow for eurozone plus discussions and initiatives on the single market, as Sarkozy would like, the UK would have no voice in those discussions. This would be a disaster for the UK and remove a large liberal voice from the table.

- For all competitiveness and growth measures to be done through the normal EU-27 route (or 'community method') where every member state's voice is heard.

- And for the new Treaty to be rolled into the EU Treaties in due course - this would avoid legal confusion and ensure that the EU institutions (especially the Commission and ECJ) are able to enforce it/ police it so that it is fully in line with existing EU law and practice.

To be clear, this does NOT mean that we would abandon the need for safeguards before it could be rolled in to the EU Treaties. NOR does it mean that the actual substance of the Treaty itself (e.g. Legally binding annual debt limits) would apply to the UK. In other words, Clegg is NOT
calling for the UK to sign up to the Treaty.

As with other Eurozone rules, and many other aspects of the EU (e.g. Schengen), rolling this into the EU Treaties would mean that the substance applied to some but not all EU member states. By embedding it in the EU Treaties, there would be no risk of it undermining the Union, the single market and the rights and obligations of all member states (both Euro-ins and -outs).

Finally, this meeting was an excellent opportunity to use an existing pan-European political network available to the government to pursue coalition objectives. In fact both the Prime Minister and Chancellor used the meeting as an opportunity to hold bilateral meetings on the margins with several of the guests. This shows that any suggestion of duplicity by
the Lib Dems is entirely false. Moreover, the 30th January EU summit is focused on growth and competitiveness, the UK's no. 1 EU priority. Further work is now planned off the back of the London meeting to ensure a Liberal European agenda, a British agenda, influences the discussions to the fullest possible extent.


Joint Statement: European Liberal Democrat Leaders Meeting

Leading Government Ministers, Party Leaders and European Commissioners
from Liberal Democratic parties across Europe, meeting in London at the
invitation of UK Deputy Prime Minister, Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP, and under
the aegis of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform party (ELDR), today
made the following declaration.

Jobs, Growth & Reform

Europe is at a dangerous crossroads. Without decisive and concrete action,
we risk recession, rising unemployment and falling living standards. There
is a real risk of Europe turning inwards, with a return to the
protectionist policies of the past. Our ability to prevent this now
depends on our willingness to act together in the collective interest.

Resolving the economic crisis is the urgent priority. This clearly
requires greater fiscal coordination, discipline and solidarity. But our
problems cannot be solved through austerity alone. Unless we can tackle
another underlying cause of the crisis - Europe’s lack of global
competitiveness - this crisis will be the first of many.

We are firmly of the view that a vital part of a lasting solution is an
urgent and far-reaching reform agenda to create the right skills mix and
to help unlock jobs and economic growth across the EU. Europe has done
this before: the Single Market Programme of the 80s and 90s was a truly
remarkable liberal achievement, tearing down trade barriers within Europe
and unlocking unprecedented levels of new jobs, growth and prosperity. We
need to build on the progress made to date, in particular through Mario
Monti’s 2010 report on the Single Market and the Commission’s Single
Market Act, to recapture this level of ambition.

We therefore call on all European leaders and institutions to use the
January 2012 European Council meeting to kick start and drive forward an
Urgent and Ambitious Plan for Jobs and Growth in Europe, including:

• A programme for the completion of the Single Market by 2015. This
should include a growth test to identify the priority measures, a
fast-track mechanism to drive them through the legislative process, and a
commitment to prioritise their implementation and enforcement. Completing
the single market in the services and digital sectors alone could add
hundreds of billions of Euros to the European economy and generate
thousands of Euros in extra annual income for the average European
household;

• A programme running until 2015 for the reform of existing EU
legislation, including social and employment legislation, to aid domestic
structural reforms across Europe and help deliver flexible labour markets,
boost European competitiveness and increase employment;

• An ambitious external trade package that taps into the dynamism of
other economies around the world, with the aim of completing all existing
FTAs by the end of the year - contributing an extra €60bn to the European
economy – and including the launch of new trade negotiations with Japan
and the US as soon as possible. Such an ambitious external trade agenda
could generate millions of European jobs. Meanwhile, we must insist on the
respect of existing market access in third countries and must not allow
protectionism to gather strength.

• A commitment from member states and EU institutions to focus their
limited financial and human resources on prioritising competitiveness,
innovation, research and infrastructure;

• A commitment from member states and EU institutions for growth,
competitiveness and external trade to be priority agenda items on all
European Council summits until the end of this Commission;

• A reinforced smart regulation programme that incorporates the
Commission’s welcome new approach to minimising the regulatory burden on
SMEs, and includes reviews of the acquis for further opportunities to
exempt or lighten the regulatory burden on micro-businesses where
justified, a new administrative burden-reduction target and regular
progress reports to the Council and Parliament.

Unity, the EU-27 & Eurozone Fiscal Integration

Finding credible solutions to the Eurozone crisis remains our number one
priority and is in the interests of all member states. We call upon the
European institutions to come to conclusions on the Commission’s enhanced
six pack proposals and to adopt positions on the green paper on stability
bonds. We recognise that the draft Reinforced Economic Union (REU) Treaty
is a step towards greater fiscal coordination, discipline and solidarity
among Eurozone countries. However, we strongly believe that this must not
come at the cost of division or disunity in the EU.

We therefore call for the new Treaty to focus on fiscal matters among
Eurozone members, believing that enhanced competitiveness is most
effectively pursued by all EU-27 member states; for the Treaty to
safeguard the community method and fully respect the policies and
competencies of the EU as set out in the EU Treaties; and for the REU
Treaty to be rolled into the EU Treaties in due course.


Andrus Ansip PM, Leader of the Reform Party
Prime Minister of Estonia
Jan Björklund, Leader of the Folkpartiet
Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden

Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP, Leader of the Liberal Democrats
Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Praxoula Antoniadou Kyriacou, Leader of the United Democrats
Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism of Cyprus
Karel De Gucht
Commissioner for Trade
Belgium

Cecilia Malmström
Commissioner for Home Affairs
Sweden

Artur Mas i Gavarró, Leader of Convergència Democràtica
President of the Government of Catalonia

Mark Rutte, Leader of the VVD
Prime Minister of the Netherlands

Olli Rehn
European Commission Vice President
Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs
Finland

Vincent Van Quickenborne, Open VLD
Deputy Prime Minister & Pensions Minister
Belgium

Androulla Vassiliou
Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth
Cyprus

Guy Verhofstadt MEP, Leader of the ALDE Group,
European Parliament
Belgium

Stefan Wallin, Leader of the Swedish People’s Party
Minister of Defence
Finland

Sir Graham Watson MEP, ELDR Party President
Liberal Democrats
UK



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