HM Ambassador Matthew Lodge’s speech in Turku, Finland
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
HMA held a speech on 4 November on the UK and the Nordic and Baltic States at Centrum Balticum and University of Turku
“THE UNITED KINGDOM AND THE NORDIC AND BALTIC STATES - A PERSPECTIVE ON EUROPE’S PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE”
HM Ambassador’s speech at Centrum Balticum and University of Turku, Monday 04 November 2013:
The United Kingdom and its Nordic and Baltic partners face many similar challenges and have much in common. Whether members of the European Union or NATO (or both), large or small, young or old - the need to boost growth and prosperity, to meet the growing expectations of our societies, to compete in a global marketplace whilst defending and championing our values - these are objectives that we all share and challenges we must all address.
But, despite these broad areas of common interest and understanding, we come to these issues with a wide and varied range of experience. The views of our citizens and our approach to tackling these challenges - particularly in the European Union - can appear very different.
Reflecting on the experience of three and a half years as British Ambassador to Finland, operating within the UK’s Nordic Baltic Network of diplomatic missions, and many years working on European and defence and security issues for the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I want to offer a personal perspective on our relations within Europe. I will look at how our respective histories have helped inform the attitudes and approaches we have today, I will explain the nature of the UK’s domestic debate on Europe and EU membership, and I will argue that, as partners in Europe, we face some stark choices: How will we respond to the crisis in Europe’s competitiveness? How do we address growing disillusionment with traditional politics? How can we ensure that European values continue to shape the way the world develops? And will the current economic, social and political pressures we face pull us closer together or drive us further apart?
Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you this afternoon.
I am very pleased and honoured to have been invited to address Centrum Balticum/Turku School of Economic. My thanks to Pekka Sundman/ Professor Kari Liuhto (delete as appropriate) for his opening words.
I will shortly – and with much sadness – be leaving after 3.5 years as the British Ambassador. Many ask me how I find Finland and what my impressions have been. I am able to say with complete sincerity, that it has been a fascinating, rewarding and enjoyable posting. It is also a comfortable and attractive place to live, popular among colleagues. There may be a sense that the winter nights can be long and that Finland is perhaps a little “out of the way”. It is not a large EU Member State and not a member of NATO. But, seen from the perspective of a British diplomat, our two countries are indeed broadly “like-minded”, we share many common values and attitudes and the relationship is founded on goodwill and mutual respect. I have had the opportunity to travel extensively around the country, and to visit and learn about much of modern-day Finland and its history. Whether here in Turku, or in Vaasa or Pori in the west, in Tampere, Lahti, Loviisa and Jyvaskyla in the centre, Lappeenranta, Hamina, Kotka, Savonlinna or Imatra in the east and Saariselka, Luosto, Rovaniemi, Oulu and Kuusamo in the north. I have visited Aland, taken the Allegro to St Petersburg and visited every Nordic and Baltic capital with the exception of Reykjavik. On each occasion I have seen another aspect of the country and the region and learned a little more about its history.
Before I proceed, I should say a bit about me. As Ambassador, I am here to represent my country, in all its shades and hues. But I am not a politician, I am a public servant. I spent the first 10 years of my professional life in uniform, as an officer in the Royal Marines. In 1996 I joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as a junior diplomat. I work for the Government of the day and have to remain apolitical and impartial. So I talk to you this afternoon openly and honestly, but trust that you will be able to respect that openness. Some parts of the media have a seemingly insatiable desire to sensationalise and create mischief. In the unlikely event that anyone is remotely interested in what a middle-ranking British Ambassador to Finland thinks or is saying to a private audience in Turku, I hope I can avoid fuelling a media debate that, regrettably, seems to involve much too much drama and way too little considered substance.
And because I’m not a politician, I will endeavour to keep away from the party politics of this debate, and attempt instead to explain what lies behind much of what we see and hear, so that we might better understand what is felt, what is said and why, and consider what – as Europeans – we might expect and what we can do to ensure the future we all desire.
So what are the themes that have dominated my time here? Well, amidst a wide-range of interaction and cooperation – most of which doesn’t and shouldn’t involve government or officials like me – the undoubted focus of my three years has been, as seen from here in Finland, the European economic crisis, particularly as it impacts on the eurozone, and, with particular attention in the UK, the wider challenge of returning our economies to growth – tackling the deficit, operating in an environment of austerity, public sector reform and pushing what in the UK we have come to call “commercial diplomacy” or our “prosperity” agenda.
These two directly related themes have come together in a renewed attention to the European Union and its future. For better or worse, the UK has been seen as the initial driver of this wider debate.
I remember during my first 18 months here, how I would exchange quiet words with Finnish Government officials about the crisis and the steps the Eurozone countries were taking to tackle the problems. For a while the UK refrained from much public commentary on the issue, urging the Euro zone to get its house in order, but respecting their right to decide for themselves how to manage the details. But that changed at the European Council in December 2011, when Prime Minister David Cameron blocked a proposed new treaty designed to impose greater fiscal discipline on all member states because the necessary safeguards for ensuring the integrity of the Single Market for all 27 EU Member States, including those outside the Euro zone were not forthcoming.
It is fair to say that in capitals across the EU and amongst the media and commentariat, this UK “veto” caused something of a shock and prompted much speculation. Both the shock and the speculation - 2 years on - have subsided but neither has altogether disappeared. The Euro zone’s economic challenges persist, but the sense of crisis has receded (for now at least). And the UK remains engaged and at the European table.
December 2011 was undoubtedly a significant landmark in the UK’s membership of the EU. Since then, we have seen a concerted effort by the UK Government to engage with our EU partners on these issues, explaining our concerns and listening to theirs. David Lidington, our Minister for Europe, has visited every EU capital and has been in Helsinki three times since January 2012. Other Ministers and officials have been reaching out similarly. The UK has been attempting to shape the debate both at home and across the Union – launching our own “Balance of Competences Review” in July 2012 and with Prime Minister Cameron making a key policy speech on Europe in January 2013. We have continued to champion the Single Market, including the Digital Single Market. We have argued for budgetary discipline and greater efficiency. We have been pushing the case for free trade and against protectionism, including a concerted push on the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations with the United States. And most recently, we have welcomed the European Commission’s “Refit” push aimed at smarter and leaner regulation across the EU, with David Cameron, PM Jyrki Katainen and others including PMs Reinfeldt and Ansip and business leaders meeting in Brussels during last month’s European Council to discuss deregulation and cutting red tape as a means of boosting Europe’s competitiveness and promoting innovation.
At the same time, the UK has also announced its intention to opt out of a raft of Justice and Home affairs measures which we see as superfluous or outdated, and to seek to opt back into only a select group of measures which are central to fighting crime and facilitating judicial cooperation across the continent. The UK Government has been strict in ensuring that the existing competences of the Institutions are respected and do not “expand” by default. And we are increasingly vocal about our concerns regarding the perceived “democratic deficit” and the central importance of national Parliaments.
So what’s going on? Why this surge in UK activity across the whole range of EU business? I know that Finns tend to follow the British media closely, so I don’t need perhaps to say too much about Nigel Farage and the UK Independence Party (UKIP). But, in a country where there has long been a lively strain of opinion both in Parliament and across society as a whole that is sceptical about the European project, we are witnessing an unprecedented surge in popularity for UKIP under the leadership of an affable and charismatic leader. Unlike their Finnish counterparts – Perussuomalaiset – UKIP is not yet represented in the national Parliament in Westminster, but established political parties of all shades now have to take UKIP seriously where they may previously have dismissed them as a fringe group. And prospect of some significant UKIP success in next May’s European parliament elections, or even our General Elections scheduled for May 2015, cannot be ruled out.
And even within the governing Coalition, and within the parties themselves, there remain, quite naturally, different shades of opinion. As an illustration of the different nature of the public debates in the UK and Finland, I noted with wry amusement and interest how, when the debate on Europe in the UK was really gaining pace, the Spring 2012 Presidential elections here in Finland saw many comment with relief how the two candidates who made it through to the second round were both pro-EU. If we had Presidential elections, it would look very different.
In short, in the UK we have an ever more lively debate about Europe. Views are becoming increasingly polarised. And there is a sense that the British people are entitled to offer a view – and that this is long overdue. But, day-to-day business has not really changed so far. However, Government and commentators are increasingly anxious that the changes required to help the single currency may bring risks for those outside the Euro zone and may fundamentally alter the nature and balance of the Single Market. Just today, the UK’s Confederation of British Industries (CBI) published a report that asserted clearly that the UK is better off within a reformed EU, but also identifying the big reform challenge of ensuring that Britain’s membership of the Single Market and the EU of 28 does not become damaged or diluted by the Eurozone’s drive for greater integration.
Shared interests, different perspectives
So, if we in the United Kingdom and Finland – and many of our Nordic and Baltic partners – find that we share similar views and positions on a range of important issues such as budgetary discipline, respect for the rules, support for free trade, promoting the Single Market, boosting growth and competitiveness, reforming regulation and cutting red tape. And we do. We nonetheless often arrive at those positions from a very different starting point. There are elements of political and social culture here. But chiefly, I’d argue, it’s about history.
Allow me to take a short and unashamedly impressionistic gallop around our respective historical backdrops. The British Embassy in Helsinki – for those who haven’t visited – is located in one of the most beautiful parts of the city in Kaivopuisto. From my office window I enjoy a view out over the wonderful sight of Suomenlinna/Sveaborg. What better reminder could one have of Finland’s history and heritage as formerly part of the Swedish Empire at a time when Russia’s influence and impact was extending across the Baltic?
As an amateur reader of Finland’s history, I quickly became fascinated by the twists and turns that shaped Finnish history from the late 18th century onwards. Many eminent Finnish historians have written eloquently on the subject. But from my office it is Suomenlinna, the park in Kaivopuisto (bath house sadly no longer there), the architecture of the city centre including Senaatintori, the choice of Helsinki as Finland’s capital (if I’m allowed to say that stood here in Turku..!) and, perhaps most obviously of all for foreign diplomats, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building in Katajanokka, that all contribute to paint a picture of a Russian influence on top of a local identity. And I reflect how it appears that that ever stronger sense of Finnish national identity was able to grow and develop within the framework provided under the autonomous Grand Duchy, how that in turn found expression with the creation of the Independent Finnish State. And that early 20th century period and the civil war, through the rise of the Soviet Union, the Winter and Continuation Wars and the post war period and beyond marked, as I understand it, a very different but no less formative period in the creation of the modern and confident Finland we see and appreciate so much today.
What was Great Britain doing at that time?
Here I am embarrassed to admit, despite having been a student of history at secondary school, that my earlier exposure to the history of the Baltic Region was remarkably limited. The Hanseatic League attracted some attention, but historical study in the UK, for non-experts at least, appears to have tended to focus on our relationship with France – perhaps most prominently the struggle against Napoleon, and the creation of national heroes such as Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington – and then later in the 19th and early 20th century, the growth of the British Empire and rivalry with the French (again) as well as Russia and Prussia/Germany. It is in those wider struggles that we see some reminders of the links between Finland’s 19th/20th century history and Britain’s. Despite France having given the Swedish crown 80 barrels of gold to help construct Sveaborg, it was a Franco-British fleet that bombarded the Russian garrison inside the fortress during the Crimean war. During the same period, the British and French captured Bomarsund in the Aland Islands – incidentally, the occasion saw the award of the first ever Victoria Cross for gallantry. And that year an ill-fated Royal Navy raiding party took on the feisty residents of Kokkola and came off the worse for wear. The “British” gunboat is still there to this day – reportedly the only RN vessel in foreign hands!
If that Crimean War period is complicated, the early 20th century is yet more so. Seppo Rustanius’s film “Royal Reds” telling the story of the Finnish soldiers in the British Murmansk Legion in 1918-19 provides a fascinating insight into another of the intersections of Britain’s and Finland’s respective histories. And copies of the correspondence between Winston Churchill and Marshall Mannerheim in 1940 provide another.
So what? How is this relevant today?
Britain joined the European Economic Community - forerunner to the European Union - in 1973. 40 years ago, at the same time as Ireland and Denmark. If you did not hear news of great celebrations earlier this year across the UK it’s because there weren’t any. I was also struck by the distinctly low-key reaction in the United Kingdom to last year’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union. What should we read into this apparent lack of enthusiasm? And how does that relate to Britain’s past and to the present?
Let us start by accepting, as the evidence shows, that the UK and Finland, along with Finland’s Nordic partners, find common cause in the promotion of the Single Market, free trade, budgetary discipline, advancing European values and fighting protectionism, prejudice and introversion.
And yet, as we in the UK approach the end of this 40th anniversary year, the relationship between British politicians and Brussels and the prevailing attitudes of the British people towards the European Union seem more strained than ever. Here in Finland, despite the rise of the Finns Party, public attitudes, and certainly politicians’ views, remain much more positive. Why is that? What’s the reality of the UK’s relationship with the European Union and where is it going?
David Cameron gave a speech in London on 23 January. He did so in order to respond to the increasingly heated and confrontational debate within British politics, but also more widely, about the UK’s relationship with Europe and the direction in which it is heading.
The UK is not anti-EU. Indeed, over the last 40 years, Britons have become very familiar with being an EU Member State – perhaps more than they realise. But, as politicians across the spectrum in the UK remind and are reminded, the British people have not been given a say about that membership since they voted in a referendum on 5 June 1975. I will say a word about that referendum shortly. The evolution and development of the EEC and subsequently the EU has seen various ups and downs, including [in]famously, Margaret Thatcher saying “no, no, no” in the British Parliament, and Prime Minister John Major’s efforts to bring the UK into the Exchange Rate Mechanism in advance of a possible UK membership of the Single Currency. The UK opted out of Schengen and the single currency. But has been an active and powerful advocate of enlargement, of EU engagement on climate change and building up the Union’s common foreign and security policy. So, despite the ups and downs, we have managed and found a way through, and the EU has enlarged and grown. But perhaps the key point has been that for many in the UK, they have been happy to accept others’ agenda for “ever closer union”, to allow those who wanted to form the Schengen area, to build a common currency and cooperate in other ways as long as it did not impact too seriously on the way they live their lives in the British Isles.
But 2008/9 changed all that. The European economic crisis/Euro zone crisis, and the sustained challenges it has brought – austerity, fears of renewed protectionism, proposals for closer economic and fiscal union, increased supervision by European institutions – have sounded alarm bells in an already suspicious British society. As I noted earlier, the British Government initially left much of the debate to those who had signed up to the Single Currency. But as new rules and regulations were proposed, and it became clear that the real centre of decision-making and influence within the Union was shifting inexorably towards the Euro zone core, politicians in London began to be alarmed. With 50% of our trade with Europe, the Single Market is a fundamental national interest for us. And with more than 10% of UK GDP in the financial services industry and the City of London, any threat to the ability of the City to operate, is a threat any UK Government has to respond to. It’s not difficult to see how, as a result of our existing inter-dependencies, treading a careful line between a stout defence of national interest and a supportive show of solidarity to European partners can sometimes be tricky.
And we must remember this is not because the UK simply wants to be difficult. Nor, as some might suggest, do we want to cherry-pick. But we live in a globalised world, and depend on our ability to compete internationally if we are to regain our prosperity and re-start meaningful growth. Here the UK – an “island of shop-keepers” with a rich trading history, has a distinctive perspective. But it is not a unique perspective. I know that Finland – as an export dependent economy – shares many of our concerns about competitiveness, open markets and free trade. We are all European by virtue of geography and our values (human rights, social responsibilities), some aspects of culture are broadly similar and, of course, we have a shared history (for better or worse). And we well remember how that history, particularly in the first part of the 20th century shaped the vision for the Europe we enjoy today, and still exerts a powerful motivation on the European Union’s biggest founding partners – France and Germany. And, conscious that I am in a country where the memory of your own 20th century conflicts perhaps continue to have a greater impact than almost anywhere in Europe, the UK’s experience of the two great conflicts of 1914-18 and 1939-45 are of a Europe that first threatened and then pulled us in. There is no resentment of that role, but it nonetheless shapes our attitude even to the success of Europe as a project that has brought peace to the continent. And we must all remember how, on the western front and in the Pacific, Europe was only kept free as a result of intervention by the Americans.
But in many other ways, the UK is more broadly “international”. The rise of English (albeit in the last 60 years thanks to our American cousins) has given us an ease of global communication and reach that others have not enjoyed, our common law legal system – shared across the globe in the days of the British Empire – has given us another connection to far flung lands, the Empire itself – now a distant memory – still forms part of our collective heritage and shapes our attitudes, whether through membership of the Commonwealth, mass immigration from south Asia or the Caribbean and the resulting ethnic and social diversity of modern British society. This means that however close Europe may be we will always be looking further afield as well.
If that sounds peculiar to the UK, I would argue that it is not so much. Many Member States have to balance their European orientation with other factors and relationships, nearer to home and further afield. It is easy to look at Finland’s accession to the EU in 1995 as the start of the story. But we should remember that the founding members of EFTA in 1960 included the UK, Sweden, Denmark and Norway, and that Finland became an associate member in 1961, even if not a full member until 1986. And also that, even in 1986, Finland’s relationships with her neighbours were still informed by the policy of non-alignment pursued under President Kekkonen during the Soviet period – the so-called Paasikivi-Kekkonen line. It is easy to see how Finland’s own relationship with the European Union has been shaped by, and continues to be influenced by an entirely natural and legitimate set of factors that are specific to this country. It is also interesting to note how Finland’s subsequent application for membership came after the creation of the Single Market and after the collapse of the Soviet Union. So all nations are shaped by their history and geography. It makes us who we are and it guides what we seek.
But the history is all very well. The world changes and things move on. So where are we today and what are the challenges that confront us and the issues that divide us?
There were, unsurprisingly, a lot of reactions to Prime Minister Cameron’s speech earlier this year. The media has chosen to focus on David Cameron’s pledge, in his capacity as leader of the Conservative Party, to hold a referendum on Britain’s future relationship with the EU. But the Prime Minister said much more than that. Yes, Mr Cameron did promise, if the Conservative Party secures a mandate at the next general election, to negotiate a new relationship with a reformed European Union, with the single market at its heart.
But at this point, allow me to touch on what happened in the UK in 1974/5, following our accession to the EEC as it may offer some interesting parallels. We had two general (Parliamentary) elections in 1974. For the first in February that year, the Labour Party – responding to popular concerns about the possible consequences of EEC membership - included in its manifesto a pledge “to renegotiate the terms of British accession to the EEC and then to consult the people on whether Britain should stay in the EEC on the new terms if they were acceptable to the government”. Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s minority Labour Government was then re-elected with a majority in October that year. In March 1975, EEC Heads of Government agreed a deal and Wilson declared “I believe that our renegotiation objectives have been substantially though not completely achieved”. The subsequent referendum, asking whether the UK should stay in the European Community was supported by over 67% of the electorate. It will be interesting to reflect on what happened in 1975 if and when we face a new referendum in the UK following our next elections in 2015.
But “in” or “out” referenda and what might happen post 2015 are one thing. What the media has perhaps given less attention to was David Cameron’s clear statement about his own, and his Government’s, conviction that it is in Britain’s interests to remain within a reformed European Union. David Cameron set out clearly how he believes the EU needs to adapt if we are to succeed in the global race of the 21st century. He also set out that he wants Britain to be at the heart of such an EU. However, as the Prime Minister pointed out, to the UK, the European Union is a means to an end – not an end itself. We think the whole of Europe, not just us, can have an improved Union. What is our idea of a better Union? A better deal for Europe would be a flexible union of member states; a union that is competitive, fair and democratically accountable to its citizens, able to successfully compete in the global economy.
The PM’s speech gave a very clear commitment to keeping the UK in the EU, at the heart of the Single Market, but also leading EU action on energy, climate change, development, foreign policy and other global challenges
It specifically rejected the notion that the UK would be better off with a relationship to the EU akin to that of Norway and Switzerland. In the speech, David Cameron agreed with those inside and outside the Union that it is in the interests of both the UK and the European Union for Britain to remain actively engaged.
The speech also offered an honest assessment of the challenges that Europe faces. Specifically, the challenges of the Euro zone crisis and the changes it is driving in Europe, Competitiveness in the face of a transformed global economy, and the gap between Europe and its peoples.
Let me quote what David Cameron said: “First, the problems in the Euro zone are driving fundamental change in Europe. Second, there is a crisis of European competitiveness, as other nations across the world soar ahead. And third, there is a gap between the EU and its citizens which has grown dramatically in recent years. And which represents a lack of democratic accountability and consent that is – yes – felt particularly acutely in Britain. If we don’t address these challenges, the danger is that Europe will fail and the British people will drift towards the exit. I do not want that to happen. I want the European Union to be a success. And I want a relationship between Britain and the EU that keeps us in it.”
The Prime Minister proposed five principles for reform to overcome these challenges: • Competitiveness: a serious effort to deepen the Single Market, cut red tape, open up trade and reform the EU’s institutions
• Flexibility: embracing the diversity of the EU, rather than insisting on one size fits all.
• Power must be able to flow back to Member States, as promised at Laeken 10 years ago: we must not be fixated in only adding to what we do at a European level. We should be prepared to consider what it makes sense for us to do at an EU level and where the EU might stop doing this which could better be done at a national level
• Democratic accountability: there has to be a bigger role for national parliaments and we need to do better at connecting what happens in Brussels to what European citizens want and need
• Fairness: the changes brought by the Euro zone crisis must not undermine the integrity of the Single Market
We have, since January this year, already seen real progress on a number of these fronts. The UK is not alone. We all acknowledge the challenge of competitiveness, we all want an EU that is fair, we see the risks of declining engagement from EU citizens and the democratic deficit that represents, and increasingly Member States are daring to suggest that perhaps powers might flow back to the national level.
The Dutch Government launched their subsidiarity review in June this year declaring: “European where necessary, national where possible”. Chancellor Merkel and others have also acknowledged legitimate questions about what the best balance may be between the Member States and the EU. And Prime Minister Katainen has called for “fairer integration”. Even France’s President Hollande has talked about a “differentiated Europe” – perhaps a vision not a million miles away from our own. And earlier this autumn in Vilnius, an informal General Affairs Council considered what we should be doing to address the alarming decline in European citizens’ engagement in European Parliament elections and how we should address concerns about the democratic deficit.
So, from David Cameron’s 5 points, that just leaves flexibility. Do we really not want a flexible EU? Are we scared about it? Or do we think it somehow undermines the European vision?
Looking to the Future
As we look ahead, perhaps we need to remind ourselves of some of the essential truths. People want a voice. Particularly when times are hard, they want to feel that their politicians and Governments are accountable. They want to be able to kick them out if they don’t deliver what they promise. They want to be understood, supported, rewarded and protected. And not only do they want their voice to be heard. They have an identity that they want to be respected. This is not un-European. This is not nationalism or petty bigotry. It’s about who we are, where we live and how we live. That richness and diversity that makes Europe the wonderful tapestry that it is, comes from the different customs, cultures and identities of not only 28 Member States, but many communities and societies within them.
This is not for a moment to argue that Europe and its citizens are not at the same time bound together by common values, shared interests, shared history and similar hopes and dreams. We want Europe to work together in driving progress on important issues such as climate change and the environment, democracy and the rule of law, human rights and fundamental values. And we want to expand the single market, to deliver a digital single market, to use our collective muscle and influence to promote free trade and combat protectionism.
But the UK doesn’t want to join the single currency – certainly not for the foreseeable future. We want our politicians to be directly accountable to our voters and our Parliament to decide what is right for the UK. We want to work with the European Union and continue to be actively engaged in – and for – the EU. But we also want the flexibility (David Cameron’s 2nd point) that we believe a diverse EU of 28 sovereign member states requires.
PM set out a clear vision: “We believe in a flexible union of free member states who share treaties and institutions and pursue together the ideal of co-operation. To represent and promote the values of European civilisation in the world. To advance our shared interests by using our collective power to open markets. And to build a strong economic base across the whole of Europe. And we believe in our nations working together to protect the security and diversity of our energy supplies. To tackle climate change and global poverty. To work together against terrorism and organised crime. And to continue to welcome new countries into the EU. “
Or as David Lidington says, we want Europe to have the flexibility of a network, not the rigidity of a bloc.
Networks and Partnerships
Before I conclude, I would like to highlight an example of where this flexible approach of nations working together is already happening, and already showing signs of promise. Finland and her Nordic partners have offered a pioneering example of sub-regional cooperation, through the Nordic Council and increasingly through NORDEFCO. When the current British Government assumed office in the spring of 2010 – three months before I arrived in Finland – one of the first instructions David Cameron gave to his team was to explore closer cooperation with the UK’s Nordic and Baltic partners. I do not know the origin of this initiative, but I do know that David Cameron and his Swedish counterpart Frederik Reinfeldt already knew each other and worked together. But, irrespective of the genesis of the idea, it quickly took shape. Mari Kiviniemi joined Cameron and their Nordic and Baltic counterparts in London in early 2011 for the first UK Nordic Baltic Summit. It was not a traditional summit, with large teams, a long communiqué and formal agenda. It was 9 Prime Ministers, gathering in a modern art gallery in Whitechapel, accompanied by some of the best and brightest innovators, thinkers, business people and entrepreneurs from across the region, engaging directly to learn about best practice in a range of important issues, such as Technology and innovation; Jobs, Family and Gender Equality; and Green Economy and Sustainable Business. The Swedish Government hosted in 2012, when the summit acquired the name “Northern Future Forum” and the Latvians hosted earlier this year. The good news for my Finnish audience is that Prime Minister Katainen’s Government has agreed to host the next summit in late 2014 here in Finland.
And, in the area of defence and security, the UK and the Nordic Baltic countries, along with the Germans, Poles and the Dutch, have been enjoying informal discussions as part of a northern group of like-minded partners, following discussions between the Norwegian Defence Minister and his UK counterpart in early 2011.
Two contemporary examples – neither of them focused on EU matters specifically - but both illustrating the value of regional and sub-regional groups facilitating exchange and discussion amongst broadly like-minded partners in northern Europe.
At the beginning, I said that I aimed to set out a personal perspective on our relations within Europe. To look at how our respective histories have shaped the attitudes and approaches we have today, and to offer some explanation of the nature of the UK’s domestic debate on Europe and EU membership. I also said I would argue that, as partners in Europe, we face some stark choices. I hope you feel I have done that.
I would like to leave you with the following thoughts: Britain was one of the champions of freedom and democracy in Europe during the darkest days of the 20th century. We have been an active and engaged Member State of the EU for 40 years, during which time we have been a leading force in the creation and subsequent development of the Single Market. We have also been a champion of enlargement in the Western Balkans and in Eastern Europe and have been a pioneering driver of European defence cooperation and foreign policy engagement – from St Malo, to Bosnia, to Operation Atalanta and beyond. Britain has been a powerful voice for European interests on the world stage – at the United Nations, the G8, IMF, WTO and Council of Europe
Britain has been one of the most active champions of European values including democracy, human rights, tolerance and diversity and a steadfast contributor to European engagement on global issues such as climate change, the fight against poverty, conflict resolution, counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation.
President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy said of the UK in December last year: “Every Member country brings its own unique contribution to our Union of diversity. But Britain’s contribution is greater, I think, than it sometimes realises itself. It has been crucial in building Europe’s centre-piece, the single European market, now the largest market in the world…”
So I hope – as Mats Persson, Director of Open Europe said on hearing Cameron’s speech in January that Europe “gives these ideas a fair hearing”. Closer to home, Risto Penttilä, President of the Finland Chamber of Commerce remarked: “Berlin, Paris and Brussels should wait a moment before trashing Cameron’s ideas. He is not against further integration within the euro zone. He wants to ensure that those outside the euro zone have fair access to the single market. This is not a destructive but a constructive approach.
We can pretend that Europe is still one big project and reject Britain’s new vision. Or we can admit that there are two mutually reinforcing Europes. If we do the latter, Cameron’s speech appears more constructive that many in Brussels will admit.”
So what’s the answer?
But I don’t believe British hopes and ambitions are a million miles away from what others in Europe want. But if we don’t discuss these issues. If we are afraid to air our views, our concerns, openly and honestly, then we risk a cycle of increasing misunderstanding and growing disillusionment. I believe the European Union can offer us so much. David Cameron has been clear that he wants Britain to remain actively engaged in a reformed, more effective EU.
Perhaps, as in nature, the secret to the EU’s success lies in the fact that it needs to adapt if it is going to thrive. We need to change and modernise not only to stay together, but to succeed together. We need to recognise that through better understanding and an honest and objective discussion, we can make progress where it really matters. If we do this, I believe the UK and all its European partners can look forward to a stronger, more open, more flexible – and more competitive – Europe for the future.
Thank you very much.
Helsinki, November 2013