by Moira Whittle
EUROPEAN Union (EU) member states should work as team members with
distinctive identities, said United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair
heralding the UK's forthcoming presidency of the group of 15
Mr Blair, outlining the agenda for the six-month presidency beginning
in January 1998, called for EU countries to work together to tackle
common problems for the practical benefit of all.
"The true Europeans today are those who believe in Europe cooperating
and working closely together, and there is a global economic market
in which Europe must compete," he said.
The Prime Minister also unveiled the logo that will accompany
Britain's presidency. The design by 30 schoolchildren comprises 15
stars in circular formation each representing an EU member state.
Each star was coloured in by a child, who has family connections to
the relevant country, helped by a child from the UK.
Mr Blair views the British presidency as an important test for the
country and the rest of Europe. It was five years ago that Britain
last held the seat, which is taken in six-month turns by each member
"Our presidency is an opportunity to demonstrate that Britain now has
a strong voice in Europe - and that we can at last play our part in
building a Europe that works for the people and the people's
priorities," he told those at the launch.
Putting social policies at the heart of Europe, he said that member
countries needed to tackle the problem of 18 million people out of
work. "To improve the employability of the European workforce we need to
educate not regulate. There is a way between old-style state
intervention and laissez faire and we must take it. The crucial test
will be in completing in the single market and in labour market
reform," he added.
British government officials have been working for two years to plan
the next six months. They have organised 50 ministerial meetings, 150
gatherings of senior civil servants and 1,500 meetings of "working
groups" all of which must be chaired by the UK.
It will be represented at the negotiating table by a national
representative who will represent the UK's case in front of a
president, who happens also - on all occasions between January and
June - to be British.
For example, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown will remove the
representative hat he might have worn until 31 December to take the
chairman's seat. His number two at the Treasury will then uphold
Britain's case for whatever economic policy happens to be under
During the six months, Britain plans a strong emphasis on matters
cultural. Three major conferences and more than 100 events will take
place as part of its cultural contribution to the presidency.
Culture Secretary Christopher Smith said: "We are seeing a flourishing
of talent and creativity in this country, particularly in the
audio-visual industry. The jobs of the future are going to come
increasingly from the cultural sector in its widest sense. We intend
to explore with our European partners how this can be achieved and
The first conference will be a meeting of Europe's culture ministers
at Shrigley Hall, near Macclesfield, Cheshire, north-west England, to
discuss reviews of audio-visual policies.
In April in Birmingham, central England, the digital age will be
discussed, and culture, creativity and employment will top the agenda
in London in May.
Mr Blair stressed that Britain also wanted to secure peace, democracy
and security in a wider Europe. There will be a strong pitch for
speedy enlargement of the EU with negotiations due to start during
the British presidency.
The Government has also pledged Britain's determination to ensure
that those countries which wanted to proceed with Economic and
Monetary Union can do so fairly, effectively and competently.
Although the Government has decided Britain will not join the first
wave in 1999, it was in the nation's interest to ensure it succeeded,
said Foreign Secretary Robin Cook.