Week of December 3, 2001
Snapshot from the Field
Start of Euro Push?
Blair Urges Embrace of Europe,By JACK LYNE
Blasts Failures of Past UK Policies
Site Selection Executive Editor of Interactive Publishing
BIRMINGHAM, England -- In a speech ripe with potential site selection ramifications, British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently urged his nation to substantially strengthen its connection with Europe. Many observers, in fact, interpreted Blair's strongly worded remarks as the opening salvo in a campaign for UK membership in the European Monetary Union (EMU).
Britain has a "history of missed opportunities" in Europe, Blair asserted in a speech to the European Research Institute in Birmingham. One of those missed opportunities, he asserted, was the nation's failure to participate in shaping the European Union's monetary policy.
'We Squandered Our Sovereignty'Even with that hedge on EMU membership, though, Blair's speech strongly lambasted past UK policies toward Europe. He traced in detail a rocky relationship spanning 50-plus years.
"The tragedy for British politics and for Britain is that too many politicians have consistently failed . . . to appreciate the reality of European integration, and in so doing they have failed Britain's interests," Blair said. "When we isolated ourselves in the past, we squandered our sovereignty, leaving us sole masters of a shrinking sphere of influence. . . . We must be whole-hearted, not half-hearted, partners in Europe. . . . Britain has no economic future outside Europe."
Blair maintained, however, that a more proactive role doesn't mean abandoning sovereignty. "Sovereignty has to be deployed for national advantage," he said. "It is true that British governments have shared sovereignty over some decisions. But we have retained control over our immigration policy and national border controls, our tax, defense and foreign policies, and will continue to do so. . . .
"We have a vision for Europe: as a union of nations working more closely together, not a federal superstate submerging national identity," he continued. "It is the right vision for Europe. Let us have the confidence to go out and win support for it."
Critic: 'Back to Boom and Bust'Reactions to Blair's speech covered a broad gamut, most centered on the euro.
"We do not have to join the euro to be a constructive and influential member of the EU," responded Ian Davidson, a Labor Party member of Parliament. "Locking into the euro would lead to a loss of economic control and take us back to boom and bust, which we've worked so hard to overcome."
On the other hand, John Edmonds, general secretary of the UK's 700,000-member GMB union, called the speech a "positive statement" that "clearly shows that [EMU membership] is a matter of when and not if."
Blair didn't go far enough, contended Matthew Taylor, a Liberal Democrat member of Parliament. Putting off pushing for the euro is costing the UK jobs, he charged. Blair "must show a firm lead and set a date for a referendum," Taylor said.
Blair made no mention of a referendum date in his Birmingham speech. Reportedly, Roger Liddle, Blair's chief EU policy adviser, recently told Labor Party members of Parliament that the government was leaning toward a spring 2003 euro referendum. Liddle, however, has since denied making the statement.
Some Firms Restive, But UK
More recent EMU concerns, though, have centered on the euro's weakness against the pound. (Late last week, one pound converted to 1.6 euros.)
As a result, Toyota last year told its UK suppliers to settle all bills using the euro. GMB's Edmonds called the decision "further evidence that business as a whole is moving towards the euro."
Companies with UK operations have also been restive regarding the euro question.
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