Speech by Giles Chichester MEP, Chairman of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, during the debate on the Preparations for the European Council - Strasbourg 12 March 2008
Mr President, this European Council takes place with great economic uncertainty in the air. The summit will consider an update of the Lisbon Agenda, which has only two years to run. It is vital that heads of government do not indulge in self-congratulation.
There are real threats to free trade and to the fundamental principles of free and open competition that must underpin the European Union. In that context I was delighted to read the recent remarks of the Commission President in the Financial Times, in which he raised the ugly spectre of growing protectionism in Europe. When asked if such sentiment was on the rise, he said, 'Yes, and I fear this rise is not only in Europe but all over. Political forces in Europe that were traditionally pro-market are today - let us put it elegantly - more prudent'.
So there are rising protectionist threats, and not least when we hear the rhetoric from across the Atlantic from two of the front-runners in the presidential race. Let us be clear, Europe has much more to gain from globalisation than it has to lose. Indeed, The Economist recently lamented the anti-globalisation language used by some European leaders. The reality, it said, was that European citizens are winners from globalisation, with cheap imports, low inflation and low interest rates. And, notwithstanding the emergence of India and China, the EU's share of world exports rose, albeit slightly, between 2000 and 2006.
In France, where protectionist rhetoric is perhaps the most marked, a recent report stated that only 3.4% of jobs that were lost in 2005 could be blamed on so-called offshoring. So we should get all this in perspective and back the Commission President in his strong stance on the matter. Europe will only succeed in international markets if its improves its competitiveness, radically reforms its labour markets and cracks down hard on bad business regulation, both at EU level and national level.
The Economist asked the question: 'Will today's politicians ever be frank enough to tell the people that globalisation is good for Europe and for them?' President Barroso has been frank; it is time for EU leaders to back him.