David Miliband was combative while defending European Union foreign policy and the Lisbon Treaty.
As well as goading his domestic political opponents over their indecision on Europe, he laid out a case for the EU being the best forum for the UK’s national interests in a globalised world.
The EU, with the reforms to its structures contained in the Lisbon Treaty, could be a global power, he said. Or, Mr Miliband insisted, Britain could choose to become a bystander in a bipolar “G2” world where America and China called the shots.
“I don’t want to live in a G2 world. I don’t want to live in a world where the US and China carve it up between them. If we don’t want to live in a G2 world, our best shot is to get Europe to stand up – to make it, at least, a G3 world.”
Mr Miliband said the Conservatives were torn over the direction of Europe as enshrined in Lisbon. “It is obvious to me that if they choose to fight it they are condemning a possible Conservative government to years of endless, futile, useless fighting with the EU.”
But the British Foreign Secretary also admitted, in the face of public Euroscepticism, that successive governments had failed to carry public support with them.
“The Government has, over the past 12 years, made the European agenda one where Britain has much, much greater influence,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “That increase of influence and comfort level that Britain has with the agenda has not been matched by improved popularity ratings for the EU.”
This communication failure is reflected in recent polls – a YouGov survey for this series found that 53 per cent of people favour less integration with Europe or outright withdrawal. “Even when governments do brilliantly, they should never give themselves more than a B-plus. In terms of selling [the EU] we don’t get a B-plus,” Mr Miliband said.
Brussels, too, had failed to retain an engaging narrative, even while some of its more technocratic work remained central to the lives of millions. “When Europe was founded, the people who founded it loved it because it both meant and symbolised an end to war.Mobile phone charges are important but they do not summon the spirits in the way that war and peace do.”
The EU’s problems with the public, Mr Miliband said, had been made worse by endless wrangling over Lisbon. If the Irish approve the treaty in their rerun referendum, that could be a chance to move on. “Any organisation which spends eight years talking about its own internal plumbing is not going to capture the imagination of the public. One of the greatest blessings of the Lisbon Treaty is that it brings to an end institutional navel gazing... the EU [will have] 10 years to prove itself.”
The 44-year-old Foreign Secretary, the youngest man to take the job in three decades, regards Lisbon, with the creation of an EU “foreign minister” and European diplomatic service, as “a significant step forward”.
“Every country has a veto [on foreign policy], but the structures for implementing common foreign policy are clearer, more effective and more efficient,” he said.
He cautioned, however, that decision-making might tend towards a weak “lowest common denominator”, and that the EU would have to strive for a better outcome. He stressed that EU foreign policy was a complement to the UK’s, saying that China’s relations with the UK were stronger because China understood that Britain was an influential part of the EU.
Mr Miliband said the Conservative Party would “retreat” from global political realities by rejecting the EU. “I honestly believe that the Conservative Europe policy is a massive strategic weakness for them as they try to persuade sensible, moderate, ordinary people that they are a serious party of government. You should engage, especially if you are a country like ours, with all the pillars of international power.”
The Daily Telegraph