Kinnock's case for a strong Europe

TONY Blair's decision to push Britain into the constructive centre of European politics has been welcomed by former Labour leader Neil Kinnock. In the second part of an exclusive interview in Brussels this week with EADT Political Editor, Mr Kinnock - EU Commissioner for Administrative Reform - tells of his own conversion to the cause of a strong Europe and why he believes the Prime Minister should have engaged the British people in a debate on the benefits of the single currency.

TONY Blair's decision to push Britain into the constructive centre of European politics has been welcomed by former Labour leader Neil Kinnock. In the second part of an exclusive interview in Brussels this week with EADT Political Editor, Mr Kinnock - EU Commissioner for Administrative Reform - tells of his own conversion to the cause of a strong Europe and why he believes the Prime Minister should have engaged the British people in a debate on the benefits of the single currency.

TWENTY years ago, Labour went into the General Election campaign with a manifesto commitment that a Government headed by Michael Foot might withdraw from the European Union. One of the leading members of the party's campaign team was Neil Kinnock.

"I had actually changed my own mind before then," says the man who from 1983 to 1992 was to lead the party away from extreme left isolation to a more electable and presentable alternative to the Thatcher-Major Tory governments.

"The party policy was to give ourselves a final option of withdrawal if necessary. I sustained that party policy for one very particular reason - the Labour Party was shattered on a range of issues and I wasn't going to add to the schisms.


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"If you examine the record, even in the course of the Labour Party leadership campaign in the wake of the 1983 General Election defeat, I was arguing for rapid evolution of our policy.

"By 1985, I had managed to completely get rid of the old policy and begin the establishment of a constructive view of the EU. That was not completed until 1987 because there were deeply held views and they hard to be argued around, they could not be whipped out.

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"The reason I changed my mind before 1983 was the assumption I made about investment and jobs being sucked into the centre of the Common Market and away from the United Kingdom. Such decisions were demonstrably wrong.

"And also my view that engagement in the Common Market would reduce UK sovereignty in crucial areas of policy was also demonstrably wrong.

"As John Maynard Keynes said: `When I discover I am in error, I change my mind. What do you do?'

"But there were divisions in the Labour Party at the time on just about everything, and I wasn't going to add to them until I got the chance to say: `OK - here's the alternative, who's prepared to line up behind it'.

He believes that if Labour had won the 1983 election - it's manifesto was later described as the longest suicide note in history - it would not have quit the EU because of the practical difficulties such a step would have entailed.

As one of the most prominent proponents of the benefits of EU membership, Mr Kinnock takes a sanguine look at Eurosceptic and even Eurohostile attitudes in some sections of the British media.

"It concerns me mainly because the result is a very substantial denial of facts that British citizens and taxpayers have a right to see reported accurately. What is interesting is t hat in all the polls that are done, the British public's trust in the British media is the lowest in all of the European Union.

"So most people are not fooled by it. But there is no doubt that the rampant and highly prejudiced Euroscepticsm of sections of the Press does affect the political climate. It nourishes bias and encourages very deep misunderstandings.

"I am certain that in any referendum campaign on the single currency, these newspapers will be rabidly against the euro and will not give a balanced view.

"In the end, of course, I don't think that will determine the outcome of any vote. People will recognise that two factors have to be taken into account - the effect of being out of the euro and the effect of being inside the zone. They will decide on bread and butter grounds: jobs and investment, and I am confident, held at the right time with entry on the right conditions, that there will be a `yes' vote in the referendum."

One area where Neil Kinnock parts company with the Prime Minister is the lack of a Government information campaign, ahead of any euro vote, to explain the arguments for entry.

"When Gordon Brown made his `'prepare and decide strategy public in October 1997, I did assume that the preparation part would not only mean assistant to commerce to adapt machines etc, but also mean a very non-propagandist effort at public information about facts

"What I advocated was an independent body of eminent people who would supervise the provision of factual information to all parts of the country, in order to guarantee against spin, with good news, bad news, indifferent news, presented in the straightest possible way.

"Unfortunately, that did not happen and the result is 5 1/2 years later the British people say they do not know enough about Europe and the euro. The public says this in huge majorities in every poll, and that's certainly what I hear from the huge sensible majority when I go around the country.

"The chance of people to fully understand the pro and anti argument has been reduced and therefore that understanding will have to be crammed in into a relatively short time during a referendum campaign. I would have preferred it had been longer."

He believes that referendum may be held at the end of 2004 or beginning of 2005, especially if the current parliament goes close to its full term, with dissolution in 2006.

Mr Kinnock gives up his job as a European commissioner in November 2004. What has he achieved after eight years in Brussels.

"First as transport commissioner, I am very proud of the fact that we made huge progress with the liberalisation of civic aviation, bringing prices down and facilitating international aviation.

"Then there was the liberalisation of rail freight across the EU, properly used means speed goes up from 16km an hour to 60km an hour. Then we got nearly all the motor car firms involved in the car safety initiative, and I started the global navigation system Galileo, which will transform safety at sea, su8face traffic movements both road and rail, and hugely improve safety in the air.

"And we now have the safest seas in the world. They can always be improved and I don't suggest it's perfection, but we've made a start.

"In this post, as reform commissioner, we are starting to see the harvest of reform and modernisation. We have radically overhauled financial management and making significant cost savings - 14% this year and 11% savings on recruitment."

Will Neil Kinnock miss Brussels? "No. It will be time to move on. I'm 62 next year, there's music I want to listen to, sport I want to see, trouble I want to make."

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