28th May 2020

UK sets out plan to regain influence in EU

  • William Hague (centre) meeting his new team earlier this year (Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The UK must build up its presence in the EU institutions and nurture stronger ties with smaller member states in order to maximise its influence, the country's foreign secretary William Hague has said.

In a keynote speech on Thursday (1 July), Mr Hague outlined the future direction of Britain's foreign policy under the new Conservative-Liberal coalition government, and brandished Labour's recent performance as a "mystifying" failure to build up authority in Brussels.

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"They neglected to ensure that sufficient numbers of bright British officials entered EU institutions, and so we are now facing a generation gap developing in the British presence in parts of the EU where early decisions and early drafting take place," the Tory politician said in the foreign office in London.

As a result, despite Britain making up 12 percent of the EU's population, it represents just 1.8 percent of staff at entry-grade level in the commission. Meanwhile, the number of top British officials in the institution has fallen by a third since 2007.

Concerned that the decline of language teaching in British schools is proving an extra barrier to EU jobs, London is currently pushing to change the foreign langauge requirements of the Brussels civil service exams.

At present, all candidates must complete entry examinations in a second language, although from next year pre-selection tests can be taken in the applicant's first language. France is defending the linguistic requirement however, fearful that the usage of French is slowly dropping away.

Mr Hague stressed in his speech that France and Germany would remain "crucial partners," for the UK. But he added that the net of interaction must be cast much further afield. London has traditionally supported a "widening" of the EU's borders, rather than a "deepening" of internal policy integration between member states.

"It is no longer sensible, or indeed possible, just to focus our effort on the largest countries at the expense of smaller members," he told the audience.

Opposition politicians criticised the speech, calling it antagonistic.

"Mr Hague should know it is counterproductive to make such an announcement which will only raise the hackles of other nationalities," said Richard Howitt MEP, Labour's foreign affairs spokesman in the European Parliament.

The Conservative party has also faced accusations of itself losing sway in Brussels by walking away from the largest group in the EU parliament last year, the centre-right EPP faction, to create a small, new eurosceptic unit.

Emerging world

The British foreign secretary also said that greater ties must be fostered with emerging countries.

"Economic power and economic opportunity are shifting to the countries of the East and South; to the emerging powers of Brazil, India, China and other parts of Asia and to increasingly significant economies such as Turkey and Indonesia."

"It is estimated that by 2050 emerging economies will be up to 50 percent larger than those of the current G7, including of course the United Kingdom. Yet the latest figures show that at the moment we export more to Ireland than we do to India, China and Russia put together," said Mr Hague.

While the support of these emerging countries was increasingly important to tackle issues such as climate change and global economic reform, Britain's approach to building relationships had so far been "ad hoc and patchy."

"This weakens our ability to forge agreement on difficult issues affecting the lives of millions around the world and it overlooks the importance of consistency and personal relationships in the conduct of foreign policy," he said.


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