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The New Bruges Speech

David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, outlined on 15 November his vision of European integration at the College of Europe – 20 years after Margaret Thatcher’s infamous Bruges speech. Miliband is regarded as a European ‘from the heart’ and his original appointment by Gordon Brown, a Prime Minister who appears neither to like foreigners (a term excluding Americans) the Foreign Office, was – and still is – difficult to interpret.

What is to be made of the speech? Does Brown subscribe to these views? Was Miliband’s text toned down for him at the behest of the Prime Minister? Can what he said be taken at face value? Remember Thatcher’s assertion that “Our destiny is Europe”. The Foreign Minister defines a very welcome set of objectives but does not address the means to achieve them. And, as the Lisbon Agenda has shown, the means have to match the aims.

A few quotes:

“Protectionism seeks to stave off globalisation rather than manage it. Religious extremists peddle hatred and division. Energy insecurity and climate change threaten to create a scamble for resources. And rogue states and failing states risk sparking conflicts, the damage of which will spill over into Europe.”

These remarks have widespread acceptance, although some are less enthusiastic about a fully open European market.

“The EU will never be a superpower, but could be a model power of regional cooperation.”

Does he see the EU only as a regional power and not as a global one?

“The defining challenges of the 21st century are global in scope, not national. “

A fact which needs constant repetition.

Miliband bases the “next generation Europe” on four principles: “Europe Open to the World”, “Shared institutions and shared activities”, “Preventing Conflict” and “Environmental Europe”.

Shared institutions and activities are essential, but how do you achieve this with 27 countries? Indeed, with his commitment to further enlargement, incuding Turkey, agreement will be even more difficult to achieve. He does not address how to make CFSP (Common Foreign & Security Policy) and EDSF (European Defence & Security Policy) more effective He says that the Member States “must improve their capabilities”. In the section on “Shared institutions and shared activitie”, nothing is said about the need to apply the ‘Community method’. The speech could have been given by an intergovernmentalist. The Community method shows what can be done on the world global trade stage. Stronger EU instruments are needed to implement the Lisbon Agenda and are needed to forge a common foreign policy.

As to the conclusion, the EU, together with national governments, do tend to overestimate their ability to influence events in the short term, but hugely underestimate their ability to shape the long term future.

The extent to which British policy towards the EU will change cannot be anticipated until at least the December Summit and Prime Minister Brown’s contributions are heard and his body language seen. The Foreign Secretary cannot be faulted on what he said. But he will be judged by what he says and does in the areas he did not mention at Bruges. However, it is hard to imagine there being any fundamental change in Britain’s EU policy and we shall presumably have to live with the policy being applied by a cold Prime Minister and a warm Foreign Secretary.

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  1. Quite right, the means have to be sufficient as to the objectives. The Treaty of Lisbon leaves the crucial decisions hostage to unanimity (liberum veto) and member states’ indipendent foreign and defence policy.

    Look at Kosovo.

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