‘Shadow’ Foreign Minister William Hague’s speech yesterday to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, seems not to have been influenced by the débacle marking the first stage of the new Conservative policy towards Europe.
The Conservatives gave up their alliance with the European Parliament election winner, the European People’s Party (EPP), in which its influence was greater than its representation, to form a new, intrinsically unstable European Conservatives & Reformists (ECR) Group. The ECR is a rag-bag of mainly Central European MEPs (26 Brits, 15 Poles, 9 Czechs and one Belgian, Dutch, Finnish, Hungarian and Latvian) and has already to lost its Parliamentary Vice-Presidency (due to the defection of Edward McMillan Scott). This in turn caused the Poles to insist upon the group being led by Michal Tomasz Kaminski and not a British Conservative. Kaminski is close to President Lech Katcynski and a member of the nationalistic, anti-abortion, anti gay rights Law & Justice Party.
Not content with this strategic and tactical fiasco, clearly based on ignorance and bad advice as to how Strasbourg operates, the likely next UK Foreign Minister argues that:
“Britain still carries far more clout in the world than its current share of the world population would suggest.”
Two reasons given are “an exceptionally strong relationship with the United States of America” and a major role in the affairs of the European Union”.
Two crucial themes of Hague are the commitment to the transatlantic alliance and the freshening and deepening of alliances outside Europe and North America. Europe is apparently an after thought.
“The European Union is also one of the institutions which must adapt to the changing distribution of world economic and political weight”. This is not a speech about European policy: our belief that the European Union needs to focus on the issues of global competitiveness, global poverty and climate change is well known, as is our opposition to the greater centralisation of power in the EU.”
This speech reveals two contradictions. First, the relationship with the US will only remain “exceptionally strong” while the UK is closely embedded in the EU. Second, the UK can only really wield influence if its position is leveraged within the EU.
The tone of William Hague’s speech takes us back to Winston Churchill’s image of Britain at the centre of three concentric circles: transatlantic, Commonwealth and European – a world that no longer exists. Indeed, even that’s too recent. The speaker put himself in context when he said:
“200 hundred years ago, in his most famous and shortest speech, my hero William Pitt The Younger said, ‘England has saved herself by her exertions and will I trust save Europe by her example”.
That tells you everything.
Author : Stanley Crossick