Five Specific Questions for General Disagreement: The Hampton Court Summit and the UK Presidency

Five Specific Questions for General Disagreement: The Hampton Court Summit and the UK Presidency

Theme: The UK presidency will host a meeting of the European Council on October 27. It will be an informal session to discuss how to deal with the challenges of globalisation.

Summary: The UK presidency has put in motion an initiative of questionable use. Furthermore, it has done so from a position that is structurally at odds with Tony Blair’s clear desire to exercise leadership. The following analysis provides hypothetical content for a possible Spanish response to the questions that Blair posed in his letter of invitation to the EU’s leaders. The conclusion is clear: Spain fully shares the concerns laid out by the UK presidency and, precisely for this reason, should ask the UK to put aside its historic distrust of European integration and equip the European Union with the powers and resources necessary to address these concerns. (Please note that the original Spanish version of this paper was published on Tuesday, October 25, 2005.)

Analysis: What position should the Spanish government take at the Hampton Court summit on October 27? What follows is fiction; it is simply a format for discussing what position the Secretariat of State for the European Union could advise the Spanish Prime Minister’s Office to take. For this reason, this text is written in the style used in internal inter-departmental communications.


FROM: Secretariat of State for the European Union. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation.

TO: International Department. Prime Minister’s Office.

TOPIC: Spanish prime minister’s participation at the informal European Council meeting at Hampton Court, on October 27, 2005. UK presidency of the European Union.

The Hampton Court meeting
The Union’s president in office has sent the Spanish prime minister a letter of invitation to an informal European Council meeting to be held at Hampton Court on October 27. In contrast to usual practice, the Council will meet for one day only, there will be no formal conclusions and no official news conferences are scheduled. No official decisions of any kind will be made, since the agenda deliberately ignores the two big pending issues that are dividing the 25 member countries: the process of ratifying the European Constitution and the European budget (the financial perspective) for 2007-13.

The president in office wants a totally informal summit that will encourage frank and open discussion on globalisation, economic reform and the internal and external security of the Union. He has the support of the liberal president of the European Commission, José Manual Durão Barroso, who has prepared a document on ‘European values in a globalised world’ (COM 2005 525 final, October 20, 2005), on which discussion will be based. The five themes posed by the presidency to guide the debate are:

(1) What are your reactions to the Commission’s analysis of the magnitude of the challenges facing Europe?
(2) What do you think is the best way to guarantee jobs, growth and solidarity? What does social justice mean today?
(3) How can the Union help member states in their efforts in this area? Should we be doing more research and development and improving our universities so that our citizens are fully able to benefit from the opportunities of globalisation? How can we explain to voters the need for modernisation?
(4) What can Europe do to enhance the personal security of our fellow citizens? What more can we do with third countries to fight illegal immigration and enhance security?
(5) Can we do anything more to make the world a better and safer place?

General Assessment of the Initiative
The tone of the UK presidency was set early by Blair’s decision to not allow a budget agreement at the Council meeting in Brussels (June 16-17) that would have given the EU the breathing space it needed to survive the double “no” to the European Constitution in France and Holland in May and June. Blair’s refusal to accept any of the series of compromises offered by the then EU president in office, Jean Claude Juncker (Luxembourg), followed by his vibrant speech presenting the UK presidency to the European parliament on June 23, made it abundantly clear that, buoyed by his recently won third term in office and the domestic weaknesses showed by Chirac and Schröder, he had decided to turn things around and to become the leader of the crisis-ridden European Union.

With the excuse of the Union’s high spending on agriculture and its economic inefficiency (in contrast to the dynamic US and UK economies), Blair made it the main objective of his presidency to direct constitutional policy towards economic reform, to use the European budget to boost competitiveness and employment (to the detriment of regional cohesion) and to strengthen the Union’s role in the world.

However, his call to listen to the continent’s citizens very quickly faded, first of all because the London attacks completely changed the UK’s priorities and agenda. Beyond the understandable concern about the problematic relations between Islam and British society, the British government has not taken a European approach to the issue (fomenting common policies in the fight against terrorism and, more broadly, supporting the Space of Freedom, Security and Justice). Second, Blair quickly realised that listening to citizens is highly incompatible with the goals he has set for his presidency. It is strikingly obvious that European public opinion is openly hostile to Blair’s policies regarding the start of accession negotiations with Turkey, his proposals for the reform of European social models and trade liberalisation in the framework of the Doha round of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The excellent working document on social models presented by André Sapir (Globalisation and the Reform of the European Social Model) in anticipation of the Hampton Court meeting shows that there are four European social models (‘Scandinavian’, ‘continental’, ‘Anglo-Saxon’ and ‘Latin’), not two. Significantly, although the Anglo-Saxon model is more efficient than the continental one, the Scandinavian model is just as efficient as the Anglo-Saxon but achieves much higher levels of social justice. There are now several EU member states that beat the UK on the United Nations’ Human Development Index (UNDP): Denmark, Finland, Holland, Belgium, Ireland, Sweden and Luxembourg all rank higher than the UK, which is in fifteenth place. The Scandinavian countries show that it is possible to have flexible labour markets, open economies, important public services that work well, high social spending and high contributions to official development assistance. The UK has every right to give its opinion, share experiences and suggest reforms, but not to give lessons.

The UK presidency has attempted to polarise opinion by establishing simplistic lines of debate based on the supposed existence of only two social models (the efficient Anglo-Saxon one, which would create jobs, and the inefficient Franco-German one that would lead to unemployment and economic stagnation). However, it is a fact that consensus in the European Union is much broader than it may appear as regards what is necessary to make the various European social models more viable, homogeneous, competitive and efficient.

As a result, despite these attempts to make us believe otherwise, it is very clear that globalisation does not in any way require Europe to adopt the Anglo-Saxon social model or to make Blair’s ‘third way’ Europe’s official policy. It is therefore worrying that under the heading of ‘European values’ the European Commission has included a whole series of issues relating to economic efficiency that simply respond to market logic, but have little to do with the political, economic or social aspects of the European integration project.

The problems presented by the European Commission in its letter to the Council are typical of an advanced society (from Chile to Australia) and are not specific to Europe. What is specific to Europe are the means and style of solving problems –something that both Blair and Barroso seem to forget–. This shows that the European Commission, or at least its liberal president Barroso, has not understood that the popular revolt against the Union has arisen from an insistent invocation of European values to legitimate economic reforms that have nothing to do with European values and which are in fact a threat to them. Europeans aspire to a high level of material well-being and, at the same time, a high degree of social cohesion, environmental sustainability and solidarity with the third world. They also want strong supranational institutions that are compatible with their nation states. However, the British strategy completely lacks specifically European answers to Blair’s questions.

The Strategy to Follow
It is clear that the rhetoric on reflection, economic reform and attention to the grassroots hides a complete lack of will to encourage debate on the two issues on which Europe’s future now depends. Without a constitution or a budget, it is unlikely that the Union can play any kind of global role or carry out the policies it needs. Abstract debates on globalisation such as Blair’s are fine. In fact, Spain fully agrees with his analysis and has undertaken and will continue to undertake all reforms necessary to guarantee a dynamic and cohesive future.

However, governments like Spain’s must help turn around the debate at Hampton Court and use the frank and friendly exchange of opinions proposed by Blair to make it clear that our differences with the British do not involve abstract debate on globalisation or economic reforms, but rather Blair’s reluctance to equip the European Union with the powers necessary to carry out these tasks.

Spain’s strategy at this summit must involve making it clear that the UK presidency has lacked the will to provide the European Union with the policies and mechanisms necessary for it to become a major global political and economic player that maintains internal cohesion and, at the same time, promotes ‘European values in a globalised world’ (the title chosen by the Commission for its document for debate). As a result, we recommend that the prime minister take the following position in his speech at Hampton Court:

‘My government absolutely agrees that it is urgent and necessary to carry out economic reforms to increase the competitiveness of our economies in a globalised world and to enable us to maintain our high levels of economic welfare in a socially just and environmentally sustainable framework. In fact, Spain has been a pioneer in adopting this kind of reform since joining the Union, and thanks to this, our economy is now growing sustainably today. For this reason we fully support the Lisbon agenda and wish to see all its objectives achieved as quickly as possible.

‘At the same time, this government would like to emphasise that the participation of Britain would a very great help in achieving the objectives of growth, employment and social justice proposed by the UK presidency. The UK has always lagged behind in terms of its participation in the Economic and Monetary Union and has very clearly and systematically rejected consideration of greater powers for the European Union in the areas of fiscal harmonisation and social policy.

‘For this reason, we commend the UK’s decision to redirect budgetary spending to investment and development, though we would note that its position has always been to limit the Union’s spending to 1% of GDP –a ridiculously small amount for the many ambitions expressed in its letter of invitation–.

‘We would also remind the British government that absolute insistence on the “British cheque” and its underlying philosophy is incompatible with its political rhetoric in favour of effective and mutually supportive budget reforms.

‘A British government that demonstrated it was willing to join the euro, strengthen the European Commission’s powers of economic governance, give up the “cheque” in favour of a modern, rational budgetary system, harmonise corporate taxes and maintain the social protocols signed by 24 member countries, would greatly help strengthen the Union’s capacity to compete in the world.

‘Likewise, there is no doubt that Europe’s position in the world, as well as its internal and external security, would be significantly enhanced if the British government ratified the European constitution, abandoned its rhetoric about red lines, took full part in the Space of Freedom, Security and Justice, and decisively backed the Union’s common External Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), all of which would inevitably require more and better economic and institutional input.

‘A Union that acted jointly in the United Nations, but also in NATO and other regional bodies and contributed generously to the development of other countries could certainly do a great deal to regulate the inflow of illegal immigrants that concerns us all so much. Unfortunately, the UK today appears unwilling to make its seat on the Security Council available to the European Union, to back joint external action or to maintain or finance essential common policies such as those relating to the Space of Freedom, Security and Justice.

‘For all these reasons, we invite the UK to act coherently to support European construction by providing the Union with the legal and budgetary instruments necessary to uphold European values in the process of globalisation, and by fully participating in all the areas of European integration where it has until now opted to play a marginal role. The European Union needs the UK as much as the UK needs Europe. The British prime minister must therefore use his considerable leadership skills to put an end to the UK’s historically ambiguous and weak commitment to Europe, and take a firm step toward the greater well-being of all Europeans. This is what the British prime minister said he would do at the start of his term and this is what we are all hoping to see him do.’

José I. Torreblanca
Senior Analyst, Europe, Elcano Royal Institute