Due to the death of Baroness Thatcher the Prime Minister has cancelled planned talks in Paris with President Francois Hollande and will return to the UK today.
Starting the week with his first official visit to Madrid since taking office, the Prime Minister will hold bilateral talks with Prime Minister Rajoy. He will then travel on to Paris for a working dinner on Monday evening with President Hollande. At the end of the week, the Prime Minister will meet with Chancellor Merkel in Germany for further discussions about taking forward his reform agenda.
Ahead of the visits, the Prime Minister has spoken to leading newspapers in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland to make the case directly to a European audience about the need to reform the EU to make it more open, competitive and flexible; and to address the issue of democratic consent.
What I want to do is to achieve a reform of the European Union. That is what my Bloomberg speech is all about. I think this organisation is ripe for reform. I think we’re in a global race where we have to compete with [countries like] India, China, Indonesia and Malaysia. We need a Europe that is more open, that is more competitive, that is more flexible, that thinks more about the cost that it’s putting onto its businesses, particularly small businesses; we want a Europe that wakes up to this modern world of competition and flexibility. That is the aim.
We are a major European power, a major European player. But do we think that the European Union has sometimes overreached itself with directives and interventions and interferences? Yes, it has. And that needs to change.
There are some reforms I think we need to make. Already we’re starting to make some of them. I would say there’ve been successes in recent months. For the first time, probably since the European Union was founded, we now have a Commission that is committed to withdrawing proposals, a Commission that is committed to deregulation, that is committed to taking costs away from business. We’ve had the budget deal, which I think was a great success. For the first time in Europe’s history we’re going to see the budget go down, rather than the budget go up. That is real progress, because in Europe, we’re all having to do more with less. We’re all having to spend less money and Europe should not be immune from that. So I would say already on the agenda of reform, there’ve been some successes. More flexibility, more competitiveness, more single market and reduced seven-year budget.
The agenda of the speech is change that all of Europe can benefit from. It is a more competitive, open, flexible Europe for all countries of Europe. And the second thing is that - you know, this is not about cherry-picking, but to argue as some do that you can’t have a flexible Europe is wrong. We have a flexible Europe.
Britain is not in the single currency; neither are many other countries. Not all of us are members of Schengen. You know, some countries want to go ahead with the financial transaction tax. We don’t. You know, so I think we can have a flexible Europe where we don’t all have to do the same things in the same way at the same time. I think, as I say - as I argued in my speech that Europe will be more successful if it has the strength of flexibility rather than the weakness of inflexibility.
I think the best outcome for Britain is our membership of a reformed European Union. But just as the two themes of my speech, if you like, are first that Europe needs reform, the second is that we need to recognise that consent for Britain’s membership of the European Union, and all the ways that it’s changed, has become wafer-thin in Britain. And politicians, if they do their job properly, have to recognise this fact rather than try and brush it under the carpet.
The fact is that in British politics, the fact that parties and governments year after year promised referendums, didn’t hold referendums when they could have done, that damaged consent for Britain’s membership of the European Union and there’s no good wishing that away. It exists; it’s a fact. And the best thing to do when you have a problem is to confront that problem, deal with it. And to those people who say to me, ‘Ah, but you’re creating uncertainty’, the greatest uncertainty would be to have this problem and to wish it didn’t exist. Much better to have a plan for how we make changes to the European Union, how we make changes to Britain’s membership, how we secure Britain’s membership of a reformed European Union and we settle this issue. I have a plan.