24th Mar 2018

Hague makes case for minimalist EU

  • 'The EU is part of but far from all of the solution to the fundamental changes we face' - Hague (Photo: Paul Vallejo)

British foreign minister William Hague on Monday (22 October) made the case for a politically minimalist European Union, saying that to be more effective it needs neither to be more expensive or more centralised.

Speaking in Berlin, Hague spelled out that through London's eyes, the EU is primarily good for the single market and for a few foreign policy objectives, such as tackling piracy and "squeezing the Iranian nuclear programme."

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Further enlargement, particularly to include Turkey, is also to be supported.

But notions of speaking with one voice on the global stage or furthering political union remain an anathema to the UK, where, Hague told the audience at the pro-democracy Koerber foundation, "public disillusionment with the EU in Britain is the deepest it has ever been."

"People feel that in too many ways the EU is something that is done to them, not something over which they have a say."

He said this why the government will over the next two years review "what the EU does and how it affects us."

The size (with its "massive increase") of the EU's seven-year budget is first on Hague hitlist. Too much EU comes second: "I do not understand why junior doctors' working hours should not be decided nationally."

The waning power of national parliaments was also highlighted: "If we cannot show that decision-making can flow back to national parliaments then the system will become democratically unsustainable."

Hague's speech , entitled "Europe at a crossroads" comes as other member states increasingly tend to see the UK as being the one at a crossroads when it comes to Europe.

Finnish Europe minister Alex Stubb recently suggested London is waving "bye-bye" to the EU. French president Francois Hollande last week referred obliquely to the UK by saying that certain countries are going “backwards” on integration.

Hague's public statement about London's EU qualms is new. It reflects the louder recent talk in London about withdrawing from key EU policy areas.

But it also reflects resentment among crisis-distracted member states at being told what to do by what they see as a not-fully-committed EU member - a habit repeated in Hague's speech.

“Britain wants you to succeed in your efforts to find a solution to the [eurozone] crisis ... but the way forward for the EU is not more centralisation and uniformity," he said.

Hague also took the opportunity to point out that during summer, for the first time, "British trade with the rest of the world outstripped [its] trade with the rest of the EU."

Britain's dependency on trade relations with the EU has long been used to argue in favour of its membership.

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