Cardiff European Council

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:20 pm on 11th June 1998.

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Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary 5:20 pm, 11th June 1998

We do not expect any tension between the two commitments. We came to our conclusion because Britain and the continent are at very different points in the economic cycle. That substantial difference will not be lessened in the short term—it will take some years for true convergence to come about. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we have no intention of joining before we are confident that it would be to the economic advantage of the British people.

Our unity of view on the single currency contrasts with the division among Conservative Members, who are united only in the strength of their contempt for one another's views on the matter. When the European Parliament voted last month on the single currency, half the Tory MEPs abstained and the other half voted in three different ways—a multiple split that makes the Tory MEPs much more representative of the Tory party than many of the Tory Euro-sceptics would admit.

Europe faces many other challenges as a result of the two historic changes that I have outlined. A European Union in which Finns to Italians are paid in a common currency, and whose borders stretch from Poland to Portugal and from Scotland to Cyprus, will be a Europe that gives rise to new challenges as well as to new opportunities. We must ensure that we strike the right balance between the unity and cohesion of the Union and a flexibility that can reflect the diversity of its increased number of member states. That is why it is right that a centrepiece of the Cardiff summit will be a discussion by the leaders on the future of Europe.

In his Paris speech two months ago, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out his vision for Europe. He stressed the importance of reconnecting Europe with its citizens and of striking a better balance to respect not only the advantage of Europe acting in unity, but the individual identity of each member state.

The letter from Chancellor Kohl and President Chirac, which was released earlier this week, demonstrates that those arguments are winning the debate on the future of Europe. It represents a powerful statement of the case for subsidiarity, which the two leaders demand must be "strictly respected and applied" even more rigorously, and which rightly recognises that the citizen will not accept decisions at the European level unless it is clear that …such rules cannot be adopted at a satisfactory manner at the local, regional or national level.

That statement is unequivocal. It exposes the Euro-sceptics' fears of a centralised, federalised European state for the fantasies that they are—nightmares that have something of the night about them, but nothing of reality. If the Euro-sceptics will not listen to me, perhaps they will listen to the Conservative party's nominee on the European Commission, Sir Leon Brittan, who said the other week: Europe has changed and Britain has played a big part in changing it.

There could be no better place for Britain to demonstrate the leading role that it has played in promoting subsidiarity than Cardiff.