Ambassador of Great Britain to Ukraine (2002 – 2006)

Academic conference "Reforms through trust"

September, 30

A British View of European Integration

Thank you for inviting me to join this panel.  When I was British Ambassador to Ukraine from 2002 to 2006, all my efforts were directed to promoting democracy, a free market economy and Ukraine’s European integration.  I remain deeply committed to those causes, which are of course interlinked.

I should say now that I am speaking as a private individual, not on behalf of the British Government.  The UK has a very good Ambassador in Kiev, Leigh Turner, who speaks for the Government!

I remember the first time I voted - in the 1973 referendum on whether the UK should stay in the European Economic Community, as it was then called.  Like two thirds of my fellow citizens, I voted yes.  I would do the same today.

Britain’s relationship with what is known today as the European Union has not been easy.  We were not among the six founders who signed the Treaty of Rome in the 1950s.  When we tried to join in the 1960s French President Charles de Gaulle said “non”.  The UK finally joined in 1973, as part of the enlargement from nine to twelve members.

After the Second World War, Winston Churchill had called for a United States of Europe - seeing European integration as a bulwark against another European conflict.  But he did not envisage Britain being part of it.  Britain then had its global empire. 

Within twenty years that empire had gone.  Britain was again a medium-sized power, a group of islands off the mainland of Europe.  We are still a trading nation: the world’s second biggest overseas investor, and more dependent than most on foreign trade.  But now half of our trade is within the European Union.

Margaret Thatcher is remembered for opposing the creation of a European super-state.  But in her Bruges speech, where she drew this line, she also supported the single market (which her administration had done much to establish) and European cooperation against shared threats and risks.  It clearly makes sense for European countries to work together in facing common challenges like the environment, energy, migration or international crime.

The UK has not given up the Pound to join the Euro.  Nor have we joined the Schengen free travel area.    Successive British governments and most of the British people have supported these policies.

After the global financial crisis, there is a sense of relief in Britain that the British government still has both fiscal and monetary levers to influence our economy.  It can make decisions not only about spending and taxes, but also about interest rates, unlike members of the Eurozone.  We take no pleasure in the difficulties which the Euro is experiencing.  Indeed Britain’s economic health depends on economic vitality in the Eurozone.  But it is now apparent that countries with very different economic needs adopted a single currency without a single economic policy or government.  Interest rates suitable for Germany have been too low for Greece and Portugal, which accumulated debts they could not sustain.  The only possible outcomes seem to be: the creation of a single Eurozone economic government, the disintegration of the Eurozone as members drop out, or a two-tier Eurozone.  In any case, I cannot see the UK adopting the Euro.

As for the movement of people, the UK is densely populated, particularly in southern England.  It remains attractive for migrants from many parts of the world.  Many British people believe there is already too much immigration, and fear that it is out of control.  They made this clear in last year’s general election.  The new British government has a policy to reduce net migration.  By staying out of Schengen, the UK has maintained its own border controls, rather than relying on controls at the other side of Europe.  Again I see no prospect of a change of UK policy.

The UK has, however, strongly supported the enlargement of the EU.  Successive governments have followed this policy since the fall of the Berlin Wall.  I am still pleased and excited when I see Polish lorries on British roads or find a Lithuanian hairdresser working in London.  Both were almost unthinkable only twenty years ago.  On a larger scale, the very process of enlargement has proved to be a powerful attractive force.  Country after country has adopted democracy and the free market, like iron filings in a magnetic field.

In July I heard the British Minister for Europe, David Lidington, speak to the British Ukrainian Society in London.  I was delighted to hear him say that: “Ukraine knows that it can count on Britain as its friend in the European Union.  We are, and will remain, enthusiastic advocates of Ukraine’s closer integration with the rest of Europe and we look forward very much to the day when we welcome Ukraine into the EU as a full member....  The accession criteria are rigorous and demanding.  Countries wanting to join need to undertake reforms, which mean changes to domestic policy and the judicial and economic sectors.  The UK is vigorous in championing enlargement but rigorous in saying that the accession criteria must be met and met in full.”

 

That is British government policy, and I wholeheartedly support it.