East could house technology institute

By ANDREW DUFF RIOTS in France, widespread strikes in Germany: Europe is very familiar at the moment. Amid persistent economic gloom, weak governments take refuge in abnormal measures to protect their own domestic economies from foreign takeovers.

By ANDREW DUFF

RIOTS in France, widespread strikes in Germany: Europe is very familiar at the moment. Amid persistent economic gloom, weak governments take refuge in abnormal measures to protect their own domestic economies from foreign takeovers. The European Union struggles to reach agreement on integrating the fastest growing services sector of the economy. And moves to harmonise patents falter.

All this is contradictory behaviour. The very same governments who try to block incursions by foreign companies neatly forget that they welcome foreign direct investment whenever they can get it, and that some of their home-grown companies are proving adept at taking over companies based in other member states.

The same governments and political parties who block the extension of the single market in services know perfectly well that they cannot provide a large enough stock of skilled and employable labour to run their own countries. Polish plumbers are badly needed across western Europe.

This Thursday > the European Council meets again in Brussels to try to unlock some of these issues. The agenda of the leaders focuses on investing in knowledge and innovation and on establishing a more open and efficient energy market. The Commission wants a European Institute of Technology to be set up -- why not in the East of England?

Some of the reform measures are very practical: reducing the time it takes to set up a company, for example, to one week. In Slovenia establishing a firm takes two months, in Italy very much longer, while in Denmark it can be done in an afternoon (and that for free). The European Commission wants 85% of young people to stay on in education until aged 22. Similar quantitative goals feature in the Commission's energy policy, where the target is 15 per cent from renewable sources by 2015.

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Ministers hate being tied down to figures. MEPs love tying ministers down to figures. No government is so dismissive of the European Parliament than the UK. That is a pity, because the compromises struck in the Parliament are thoroughly democratic as well as being fairly sane. Leave it to ministers in the Council and expect paralysis.

Leave it to the prime ministers and presidents in the European Council, at summit level, and get ready for a lot of rhetoric, too much vanity and really poor practical results.

ANDREW DUFF is Liberal Democrat Euro MP for the East of England.

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