A Conservative Europe

Last week Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac, and Gerhard Schroeder met in Berlin. They departed pledging to revive Europe's growth. We've heard that empty promise before.

Instead, the European Union needs a new direction. I say this as leader of the party which has been at the forefront of Britain's engagement with Europe. It was a Conservative government that first applied for membership in the early 1960's. A Conservative government took the United Kingdom into the European Economic Community in 1973. Margaret Thatcher worked with Jacques Delors to forge the Single Market in 1986.

So I have no doubt that Britain must remain influential within the Union. But British policy towards the EU has often led to worse rather than better relations among member states. Faced with a new EU initiative, our traditional response has often been to oppose it, vote against it, lose the vote, then sulkily to adopt it while blaming everyone else. Many Europeans are sick of British vetoes. So am I.

Of course there are basic requirements that all member states must accept. Foremost are the four freedoms of the single market; free movement of goods, services, people and capital. But a single market does not require a single social or industrial policy, far less a common taxation policy. Allowing countries to pursue their own policies in these areas encourages competitiveness. Forcing common standards means that Europe will fall further behind as member states shuffle their costs onto their neighbours.