David Miliband: EU relations with “great national powers” are a cause for concern

Dominic Browne reports on David Miliband's speech in which he expresses concern over EU relations with "great national powers".

David Miliband

David Miliband in a speech tonight, in Krakow’s Jagiellonian University, expressed concern over EU relations with the “great national powers”, its “precarious structural nature” and “bureaucratic vested interests” that prevent reform.

In a wide ranging speech, emphasising his credentials as a foreign secretary without a ministry, David Miliband said: 

There is our relationships with the great national powers. I am concerned on this front. The US President has cancelled EU-US Summits… Russia sees us as divided, which we are. China is concerned that we are unfocussed. Brazil and South Africa don’t quite know what we won’t. India sees the EU as a trade block and little else.

“My feeling is that rather than the comprehensive dialogues that currently dominate debate, we should for each country identify one or two issues on which we are going to become a major strategic partner. With the US it could be the future of Pakistan. With Russia it must be energy. With China it can be climate change.”

This priority alone may frustrate many who would like to see more criticism of the Chinese government on human rights grounds. Labour’s Lord Glasman, in a recent debate, said David Miliband’s refusal to speak out against China’s trade union policies was a disappointment to him. 

Mr Miliband stated that the “global carve up between the US and China may come to pass” before describing Europe as facing a choice:

“Breathe a sigh of relief that the world is not being carved up by others, and become what Richard Gowan has called a “strategic suburbia: a collection of small, quiet and obsessively inward-looking communities suspicious of the outside world” ; or recognise that nature abhors a vacuum, and move forward into it?”

The preferred path for Europe, whose construction he described as a “compromise between economic efficiency and political legitimacy”, would involve dealing with some of the thorny issues that have dogged the EU for years.

Mr Miliband said:

“We should urge the leaders of the Eurozone not to wait for even more of an emergency to address the precarious structural nature of the current position….

“We need a clear statement of Europe’s priorities for spending and action across the external sphere; and much greater fungibility of spending between departments…

“This Lisbon Treaty makes it possible. But Catherine Ashton’s efforts must not be frustrated by bureaucratic vested interests.”

In foreign affairs, Miliband called for “responsible sovereignty” which he defined as:

 “Recognising that the nation state is the building block of political identity and therefore legitimacy, but also that an interdependent world needs to qualify the right of states either to violate the rights of their own citizens or of others.”

To achieve this Miliband suggested a greater focus on “the deployability of resources” especially military, and the “identification of priorities”. 

He also grabbed one of the nettles of EU international policy in the form of Turkish membership. However he made sure he was wearing gloves. Miliband said:

“The longer there is limbo, uncertainty, confusion and even double dealing in our relationship with Turkey, the more difficult it will be to play a serious role around our borders.”

Before going on to say:

“Turkey is a long way from being ready to join the EU, and the EU is a long way from being ready to welcome Turkey. But at the moment the stand off in the accession process is blighting cooperation with Turkey across a wider range of policy. And it is Europe that suffers the strategic loss, not Turkey.”

This open and international speech by the former cabinet minister is in contrast to recent remarks made by other Labour heavy weights like Chuka Umunna, Douglas Alexander and Ivan Lewis which have focused on more domestic concerns.

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