ANALYSIS: Our Common Goal Should Be to Ensure EU Succeeds; EU Legislation Is a Threat to Britain's Autonomy, Critics Argue. Minister for Europe Geoff Hoon Says the EU Is a Vital Body, without Which Birmingham's Transformation Would Have Been Impossible

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Byline: Geoff Hoon

The European Union touches almost every aspect of people's lives and because of this we need to make it work; we need to ensure it continues to deliver results which improve lives across Europe.

In our recent history, the European Union has worked best when it has pursued policies that are outward looking, policies like enlargement and the European Security and Defence Policy.

And it has worked best when it has followed policies which focus on delivering a series of practical benefits, like the creation of the single market.

So it follows that the crucial question for us now should be not so much what Europe is, but what Europe does. Looking at recent media coverage on the future of Europe you could be forgiven for thinking reflection means inaction. Nothing is further from the truth.

During the UK presidency in the second half of 2005, Tony Blair set out how Europe needed to deliver for its citizens. The Hampton Court Summit was a wake up, emphasising the big issues that really matter to people today: energy and climate change, migration and development, education and research.

And Europe has continued to deliver in these areas.

Last month, the Spring European Council set an ambitious target of a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases. A real step towards a new economy which will be competitive and sustainable. Europe acting as a global leader.

On regulatory reform, we have set targets for lifting administrative burdens to ensure EU level action helps business create jobs and wealth rather than stifle enterprise with red tape.

At the same time we have emphasised the areas where Europe does need to legislate: single market issues, environmental protection, anti-discrimination.

The challenge of how to change European's lives for the better is not new. It is the same question asked by the founders of the European Union 50 years ago. The UK has consistently argued this should be the starting point for all discussions on the Future of Europe.

And we should establish where the added value of the European Union lies. In many areas it is more efficient to work in a partnership of 27 member states than act alone. The underlying philosophy behind the creation of the European Union was we can achieve more by our common endeavour than we do individually.

This philosophy has, I believe, brought many benefits to Europeans, notably through the single market. And it remains more true than 50 years ago. Globalisation brings global challenges: climate change, counter terrorism, poverty reduction, are all issues where we can only act effectively if we act multilaterally.

It is equally important that Europeans understand the respective roles of the European Union, National Government and regional and local authorities. Whilst I believe there are some policies which we should pursue within the European Union - issues like climate change - it is equally true there are policies which a national government can better deliver than the European Union as a whole.

Let us take an example from schools. National government can and should ensure what is taught in their schools reflects the history, society and culture of a particular country. European treaties in fact recognise this is the responsibility of individual member states.

Nevertheless, within this, we can and should develop links between European schools and universities. To take just a couple of examples, science students in the UK could compare their experiments with those of children in other EU countries. Students can learn from their peers in France, Germany and Spain how to refine their foreign language skills by sharing online magazines.

Euro-scepticism in the UK derives from a misunderstanding of the respective roles of national governments and the EU. The media, in many cases, fuels this, by presenting many EU stories as a competency issue instead of assessing the merits, or otherwise, of an EU policy. …