Douglas Alexander MP, Shadow Foreign Secretary, in a speech in Carlisle on The Choice on Europe in 2015, said:
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This summer, the discourse and debate in Scotland is dominated by the referendum that will take place on the 18th September.
But today I want to look further ahead and set out the risks represented by David Cameron’s approach to Europe and his planned referendum on EU membership in 2017.
And then I want to set out to you why Labour’s approach to Europe is different, and why I believe our vision for change is both ambitious and achievable.
The choice in 2015 is clear.
A Conservative Party driven by narrow party interest when it comes to Europe.
And a Labour Party governing in the national interest, at the heart of a reformed EU.
First I want to ask you to cast your minds back to January 2013.
After months of delay and dither, David Cameron eventually gave his one and only major speech about Europe as Prime Minister.
It was a speech that was widely praised – both within the UK and across the EU.
In it, he seemed for the first time to actually get Europe - both why it is important to the UK and equally why it needs to change.
It set out a case for EU reform that most mainstream politicians in the UK agreed with, myself included.
Crucially it spoke to a generation of political leaders who, unlike some of their predecessors, take a more pragmatic view of Europe’s role.
It connected with a generation for whom the opportunities presented by the fall of the Berlin Wall, rather than the risks of its construction, provided the prism through which they have defined their European vocation.
And yet, 19 months on from that speech, David Cameron has failed to live up to the promise of that vision.
He has failed to set out a detailed and concrete reform agenda for the EU.
He has failed to build bridges and alliances needed to deliver it.
And he has failed to unite the Tory party behind the case he made nearly two years ago for Britain staying within a reformed EU.
Today I want to set out to you why I think he has failed to live up to the task he seemed to set himself.
I believe his failures are both tactical and strategic.
First, on the eve of his speech back in January 2013, David Cameron took a decision not just to set out his plan for reform in Europe - he also made a choice about what his strategy would be for delivering it.
And he made the wrong choice.
David Cameron’s strategic error was to pin his hopes for reform on the prospect of major EU Treaty change by 2017, and commit to an arbitrary timetable for a referendum on EU membership accordingly.
I do believe that when David Cameron committed to holding a referendum in 2017 he assumed that, given the push towards closer Eurozone integration, there would be a major EU Treaty change within that timeframe he set out.
But today that assumption looks at best naive and at worst at odds with the reality of where the EU is heading.
Since David Cameron’s speech last year, the German Coalition Agreement signed last November didn’t include a single reference to Treaty change.
On a visit to London earlier this year, Chancellor Merkel gave little succour to the prospect of Treaty Change by 2017 – while her Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, denied that Germany agreed with David Cameron on the issue.
If David Cameron has learnt anything from the past few months it is that Chancellor Merkel cares less about appeasing his Tory backbenchers than she does about her own domestic priorities.
The French President also poured cold water on the prospect of Treaty Change by 2017 when he said during a visit to London in January that treaty change is “not urgent” and “not a priority”.
Today it looks even less likely to get the French President’s backing given that it would mean having to win a referendum shortly after the far right stormed to victory in the French European elections in May this year.
So nineteen months on from that announcement of a 2017 referendum, the ground beneath David Cameron has shifted, and his policy no longer looks fit for purpose.
Rather than simply a moment of peril for Britain, this could be a moment of opportunity for David Cameron.
If he was prepared to admit that, given events in Europe, a strategy he may have believed could work at start of 2013 no longer looks fit for purpose as we approach the end of 2014, it is not too late to change course.
If he changed his approach and agreed a cross-party set of reforms for Europe he could help strengthen Britain’s hand in Brussels in the years ahead.
But regrettably he has so far he has proven himself unwilling to change and incapable of living up to potential of the moment.
As well as the wrong strategy, David Cameron has also deployed the wrong tactics as Prime Minister, and also as Party leader.
He became Prime Minister when Britain’s stock in Europe was high and the UK’s influence in Brussels was significant.
David Cameron has repeatedly failed to make the most of Britain’s place in Europe, and undermined his own standing in Brussels – but also crucially in Paris, Berlin, Warsaw and across European capitals.
When David Cameron lost the vote on the EU Commission President in July, it was the culmination of a series of serious missteps in the Conservative’s approach to Europe that began when Cameron took over leadership of the Conservative Party.
In 2005 David Cameron chose to advance his Tory leadership credentials by saying he would withdraw from the centre-right EPP group in the European Parliament and in doing so, chose to relegate the Conservatives to the fringes of Europe.
He pushed Britain to the sidelines with the veto that never was in December 2010.
And then, in July this year, he chose to alienate a crucial ally by allowing the AfD into his European parliamentary group precisely at a time when Britain needed to strengthen its alliance with Chancellor Merkel over the appointment of an EU Commission President.
As Prime Minister, he has spent the past four years burning bridges instead of building alliances with other EU leaders.
And as Tory leader, he has exploited rather than managed the party’s deep divisions over Europe.
We make up nearly 12.5 per cent of the EU’s population, 15 per cent of its economy, and 20 per cent of EU exports.
Yes – we are sometimes seen as having a distinct voice in Europe, but the truth is that many member states look to us for leadership on issues from the single market and trade liberalization to enlargement and Russia.
And yet over the past four years of this Tory-led government, David Cameron’s missteps and misjudgements have too often relegated Britain to the side-lines of the EU.
David Cameron just wasn’t interested in asserting the traditional role that Britain has played in Europe since the 1980’s – the proud tradition, championed by figures such as Brittan, Heseltine and Patten – which saw Britain pushing forward the single market and pushing back against the regulatory instincts of our more federalist European partners.
Instead, the eternal disagreement between Tory free-traders - with an eye always looking outwards into the world, and the Tory little-Englanders - with a slavish commitment to ‘going it alone’, looks set to be reignited as we head into 2015.
And where does all of this leave the Prime Minister’s January 2013 vision for reform in Europe?
It leaves it exactly where it was.
Because the Prime Minister has been forced into a vow of silence when it comes to EU reform for fear of stoking the underlying tensions simmering beneath the surface of today’s Conservative party.
So since setting out five abstract principles in his speech nearly two years ago, he has failed to offer any detailed reform proposals since.
He said he wants competitiveness, but we don’t know how he plans to ensure the extending and deepening of the single market into digital and services.
He said he wants flexibility, but we don’t know what his view is on Labour’s proposals to give national parliaments a greater role in EU decision making.
He said he wants power to flow back to member states, but he hasn’t been able to give examples of power he is committed to repatriating.
And he said he wants fairness, but he has never actually said what that means in practice.
Labour has taken a different course.
We have set out credible and concrete reforms for change in Europe.
First, on the economy, an EU Commissioner focused on Growth, and an independent audit of the impact of any new piece of EU legislation on growth.
Second, on immigration, we will extend the period of time that people from new member states have to wait before being able to come to the UK to look for work; work to stop the payment of benefits to those not resident in this country; pursue changing the rules on deporting someone who receives a custodial sentence shortly after arriving in the UK; and double the time someone from the EU has to wait before being able to claim JSA.
Third, on institutional reform, Labour has called for national parliaments to come together to be able to ‘red-card’ any new EU legislation before it comes into force; for serious reform of the EU Commission, potentially establishing senior Commissioner posts with responsibility for the co-ordination of a joined up approach across a number of policy areas; and a zero based review of expenditure by EU agencies to help ensure that any overlap, duplication or waste is addressed and tackled.
And on UK scrutiny of EU matters, Labour has committed to reinstating debates in Parliament ahead of critical EU Council meetings; consult on establishing a new EU Select Committee and changing the process for appointing the UK’s EU Commissioner by giving Parliament more of a say.
Labour’s reform agenda is ambitious in its aims, but deliverable in its scope.
It does not put the UK at odds with other EU leaders, but brings us into alliance with key players from both the mainstream centre-right and centre-left groups in the European parliament.
For example, Labour’s idea to establish a Commissioner for Growth is gaining momentum among centre-left parties in Europe.
And our calls for reform of the Commission to make it more efficient and streamlined are uniting leaders from across the political spectrum.
So this is not a reform agenda designed to divide Britain from Europe, it is one that will help unite Europe around Britain.
Labour is clear that reform of the EU is a vital and urgent priority.
But we need to show it is achievable, as well as being desirable.
With a Labour government taking a different approach, Britain’s standing in Europe can be enhanced, the prospect for reform can be advanced and the case for membership can be won.
Because despite David Cameron’s failure to uncover it, I do believe that there is today a coalition for reform within the EU Council.
Not least because many European leaders today are faced with a more compelling electoral case for pursuing EU reforms than there has been since the inception of the EU itself.
Following the results of the European elections in May, it is clear that Britain is not an outlier when it comes to public support for change and reform of the EU.
Key European Heads of Government in Europe are today united by a common interest in tackling the rise of fringe and Eurosceptic parties within their own countries.
And increasingly it is becoming clear that this will only happen if they are seen to pursue, secure and deliver real reform in Brussels.
You only have to look at how dramatically the tone of political debate in Brussels has shifted in recent years.
10 years ago enlargement and integration were the ‘question du jour’.
Today the words ‘EU reform’ are on everyone’s lips.
The view that Brussels should show restraint, leave room for more flexibility and focus on ‘big things’ now seems to be common wisdom.
And so the task for a Labour government in 2015 will be to turn that common wisdom into united action.
Reform is within Britain’s grasp.
With the right leadership, some of the key players today in Brussels can become joint advocates for reform rather than adversaries for David Cameron.
European leaders, and parties aspiring to govern, must now commit to practical solutions that help address why growing numbers of people today feel shut out of the economy and ignored by politics.
As Labour, we know that a big part of that means having a set of concrete reform proposals about how the EU works and how the UK works with the EU.
And it seems clear to me, that it is no longer true to say that Europe is short of ideas for reform.
What it currently lacks is the political will to deliver.
Today, it is the task of politicians across Europe to advance the case for change, without retreating from setting out the clear case for membership.
And here in the UK, we must not underestimate what the costs of leaving would be.
Labour has been clear that membership of the EU is both a strategic, as well as an economic, asset to Britain.
In an era of billion-person countries, the EU gives us influence collectively that when we act alone, we lack - and it does so at a time in our history when this has arguably never been more important.
On so many issues that matter – security in central Europe and the Middle East – the EU is an indispensable force-multiplier for all its members – including the UK.
These arguments need to be made and they need to be won.
Yet precisely at a time when David Cameron should be advancing his January 2013 case for UK membership of a reformed EU, he is once again being outmanoeuvred by his own party over the prospect of EU exit.
Because in today’s Tory Party, it seems your leadership credentials are measured simply by your eurosceptic credentials.
So David Cameron may try all to reassure British business that he has their best interests at heart, but the truth is that British business knows that the Tory party’s approach to Europe is not just bad politics, but disastrous economics too.
So today the case I make is this.
At the next election, the British people will face a stark choice.
On living standards, on the NHS and on many key issues that today dominate much of the political debate.
But they will also face a choice on Europe.
The choice facing Britain in 2015 is between a Labour Party committed to our place in a reformed Europe, and to protecting and securing the benefits that membership brings.
Or on the other hand, a Conservative Party deeply divided over Europe and a Prime Minister that seems more focused on his party interest than the national interest.
I think the choice is clear.
I know the right choice is Labour.