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10th Dec 2022

Crisis straining EU relations as 'never before', says UK foreign minister

  • "The achievements of the last 30 years are being tested as never before," said David Miliband. (Photo: FCO)

The economic crisis is putting relations between EU member states under strain and testing the fundamentals of the European Union to an unprecedented extent, UK foreign secretary David Miliband has said.

"The sense of solidarity within Europe, between east and west, rich and poor, new and old is under strain," he said in a speech at the London School of Economics on Monday (9 March).

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"The achievements of the last 30 years - from the single market and enlargement to the euro - are being tested as never before."

Mr Miliband, known for being strongly pro-European, also warned against a retreat in protectionism as a way of combating the global downturn, saying it would be a huge mistake and pleaded for more reform to keep Europe strong.

"Now is the time we need new reform to preserve the gains of the past. The truth is that the single market, enlargement and the creation of the euro have made Europe more effective not less," he said.

His comments come as there has been increasing talk of divisions between richer western EU nations and some of the poorer nations in the east.

Some of the newer member states, particularly Latvia, Hungary and Romania have been very badly hit by the crisis.

This has prompted calls for quicker accession to the eurozone - as a way of protecting them from the credit crunch - and greater solidarity between EU nations.

The European Commission has often pointed out that it has responded to the crisis and released several billion euros early from its structural funds, most of which has gone to eastern member states.

But fears have remained that poor countries will be left to fend for themselves, a point highlighted when nine central and eastern member states held their own mini gathering ahead of a meeting of all member states on 1 March.

Officials from the countries said they wanted to make sure there was not a "plan for the west and a plan for the rest."

Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, who called for a support fund for the region, stole headlines around Europe by warning that the economic crisis could lead to a "new iron curtain."

Since the 1 March summit, the rhetoric has been less inflammatory with all countries having signed up to a summit statement saying that protectionism is "no answer to the current crisis."

However, richer nations such as France and Germany have refused to be pushed into a quick decision on changing the rules for entering the eurozone and have also rejected any blanket rescue plan for the EU's newer member states.

"The temptation, given the severity of the economic crisis, is to turn inwards and focus on domestic problems ... but solidarity and support between nations is a vital part of the European compact," said Mr Miliband.

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