European Council

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:08 pm on 24th March 2005.

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Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister 1:08 pm, 24th March 2005

I am afraid that I cannot agree with my hon. Friend. I am not sure that the European economy can be described as marching towards neo-liberalism. It is important to open up the economy. There used to be a view on the right, held by the previous Government—indeed the Leader of the Opposition pioneered the idea—that somehow one had to choose between good, decent terms and conditions for the work force and economic efficiency. That is why the Conservatives opposed the minimum wage and the social chapter. In this country, we have shown that we can combine a minimum wage, the social chapter, help for people to get off benefit and into work and the work-life balance—measures that help people to combine their family life with work—and still have a successful economy. In today's world, it is a deception on our work force and our people to believe that we can isolate ourselves from the emerging economies in Asia—the Chinese economy and the Indian economy—when in fact we have to compete with them. The way to compete is to go higher and higher up the value-added chain, which is why it is so important to invest in skills, technology and education, but to combine that with a flexible and open economy. That is what we have to do. When we consider the difference between this country's economic performance and that of some comparable countries in Europe, I think we are doing extremely well.