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Europe won't go away

About the author
John Palmer was formerly European editor of the Guardian and then Political Director of the European Policy Centre. He is a visiting practitioner fellow at the Sussex European Institute, and a member of the advisory council of the Federal Trust

Britain's problems with adapting to globalisation - managing sustainable development, confronting climate change and energy security, balancing competitiveness with social cohesion - are not unique. They are shared by almost all countries in the world - certainly all those involved in the increasingly pervasive global marketplace.

More specifically, these challenges are at the heart of the political agenda in all the other member-states of the European Union. The ominous new issues raised by terrorism, and by the increasingly illiberal response of states to terrorist threats, are also shared across Europe. They present big policy choices about the direction of foreign and security policy in a world where the superpower hegemony of the United States is in precipitous decline.

John Palmer is a member of the governing board of the European Policy Centre.

He is responding to the Economist report, “Britannia redux”, published on (2 February 2007)

Also in openDemocracy’s debate on the report:

Isabel Hilton, "The "Economist" and Britain’s future"
(2 February 2007)

Merril Stevenson, "Britain and globalisation: a good marriage"
(2 February 2007)

Tony Curzon Price, "Economist redux"
(5 February 2007)

But while the challenges are similar, the responses of different European Union states vary widely. In the most successful (notably the Nordic states) the challenges of globalisation, cohesion, sustainability and energy security are seen at least as much as exciting new opportunities as threats. The Nordic countries have demonstrated how it is possible to convert the growing worldwide demand for goods, services and technologies designed to assure sustainable development, social cohesion and alternative energy sources as a real commercial opportunity.

If Britain is to follow best practice in these areas it will require much more than parroting fashionable language about sustainable development. It will mean a far more egalitarian tax and social-security system, of the sort that working people in Scandinavia see as essential to their rights as citizens. Only then can bargains be struck about flexible working practices, lifelong learning or greater innovation. We are a very long way from that kind of consensus in Britain.

A radical change in Britain's foreign and security policy is also long overdue. The lessons from the Iraq catastrophe are stark; notably, that the supine subservience to US neo-conservatives should be abandoned forthwith. More than that, any British "Labour" government halfway serious about globalisation should pursue an agenda to strengthen, reform and democratise the weak and partial institutions of global governance.

But such a government must also take a lead in winning agreement for a new European Union treaty which would strength the EU's own decision-making institutions and processes - foremost among which should be the appointment of an EU foreign minister and diplomatic service, and the elimination of the national veto in almost all areas of EU policy. Without a stronger and more democratic Europe, talk about effective global governance will remain just that - talk.

Britain's global partners - from southeast Asia and Africa to Latin America - want to see a much stronger and more united European Union, not least to set new benchmarks for the effective and just management of globalisation. As important, the citizen at home must be given serious choices about the policy options now facing Britain and the rest of the EU.

Also by John Palmer in openDemocracy:

"After France: Europe’s route from wreckage" (May 2005)

"The 'nation'-state is not enough"
(December 2005)

The present drift to an amorphous and very restricted political "centre" (occupied by all the mainstream parties) represents a serious potential threat to our democracy. This problem needs to be addressed with urgency. It is also essential to develop fully-fledged European political parties which are capable of offering both policy choices and candidates for the highest EU offices - especially the presidency of the European commission.

The new century needs a new democratic politics: one practised at state and sub-state levels, but also at European and world levels. This is Britain's challenge too.


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