BRUGES, Belgium (Reuters) - Britain offered on Thursday a vision of the European Union as a “model power” not afraid to use military force and a strong backer of free trade.
In a speech which offered both contrasts and convergence with a vision set out by French President Nicolas Sarkozy this week, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the 27-nation EU should welcome Turkey as soon as it met entry criteria and study extending its single market to the Middle East and North Africa.
“The EU will never be a superpower, but could be a model power of regional cooperation,” he said in a speech prepared for delivery in the Belgium city of Bruges, where Britain’s then prime minister Margaret Thatcher argued in 1988 against a European federalist superstate.
“For success, the EU must be open to ideas, trade and people ... and it must be able to deploy soft and hard power to promote democracy and tackle conflicts beyond its borders,” he said.
The call for the EU to be ready to flex its military muscles is likely to go down well in Paris, which will make EU defence a key theme of its EU presidency in the second half of next year.
Britain, although it launched moves to create an EU defence capability with France almost a decade ago, is often seen on the continent as still regarding NATO as the alliance of choice for the toughest missions.
Sarkozy has also called for greater efforts to build an independent European defence capability and to modernise NATO.
“European states must improve their capabilities,” Miliband said, adding it was “embarrassing” that European nations could only deploy around 100,000 troops at any one time.
“European nations need to identify the challenges that we face; the capabilities we consequently need; then identify targets for national investment in equipment, research and development.”
Miliband stressed that a new institution was not needed.
“Let’s not have impetus to duplicate the work that’s done either by NATO or the nation states in a new European institution,” he said. “Let’s actually get on with using the institutions that we’ve got to make progress.”
Highlighting protectionism as a threat, Miliband appeared to respond to Sarkozy, who told the European Parliament on Tuesday that the EU must protect its farmers and industries better to overcome a crisis of confidence due to globalisation.
“Protectionism seeks to stave off globalisation rather than manage it,” Miliband said.
“We need to put European agriculture on a sustainable and modern footing; reduce tariffs, open up energy markets and complete the creation of a single markets in services,” he told students at Bruges’ College of Europe.
Whereas Sarkozy reaffirmed his opposition this week to Turkey’s EU entry, Miliband said accepting the Muslim country when it is ready to join should be a priority.
“Countries that are already on the accession path — Turkey and the Western Balkans — must be given full membership as soon as they fully meet the criteria,” Miliband said.
In a wide-ranging speech that also touched on climate change, he proposed an “Environmental Union” that would set a timetable for cutting average emissions from cars to 100 grams per kilometre by 2020-25, with a “European Carbon Bank” to regulate emissions.