APPG Event: Dr Wilfried Martens


By kind invitation of Derek Twigg MP, Wilfried Martens,  a Prime Minister of Belgium for 10 years and President of the EPP since 1990, spoke on the past and future of the EPP, Britain’s role in Europe and the Trans-Atlantic relationship. The meeting was held at the Houses of Parliament on 28 October 2009.


A significant moment of European history was made in London in 1839, when the Treaty of London was signed between the five European great powers and the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. European powers recognised the independence and neutrality of Belgium and confirmed the neutrality of Luxembourg. Britain and Belgium have shared a strong relationship ever since:  Belgium has been allowed to bear arms at the yearly cenotaph commemorations since the time of George V. No one can be in any doubt that the correct place for both Belgium and the UK within the European Union is one in which they are fully integrated and involved, rather than hovering at the margins.
We will soon celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. Twenty seven nations prepare to mark this joint effort. Freedom and prosperity are ideals striven for by all European nations. This was not the case when the EU was founded. Some had to live under totalitarianism: the ‘iron curtain’ that Churchill spoke of. But Churchill realised that the post-war security of Europe required a new system. No nation should be an outcast. Without the revolutions of 1956, 1968, and 1980, the peaceful revolution of 1989 would never have happened, and the continent would remain divided.

In 1989 history was, unusually, made by people in the streets. People ceasing to be afraid. People demanding something that Western Europeans already enjoyed, and were perhaps taking for granted, namely the freedom to take their lives into their own hands, within the framework of basic human rights. The doctrines of Karl Marx were overnight turned on their feet. These people had nothing to loose but their freedom.

The EPP was central in this. But which lessons of 1989 are relevant for 21st century? Which conclusions should we draw from resistance to communism? We have to believe in the power of freedom, and its importance in the construction of economically and success societies, even if other models seem to be more successful. Men and women around world look to us with hope and expectation. The experience of 1989 can teach us all a lot about the future. So far it has mainly been a success story-our continent has been unified. But we need to ask what next.
We still need a more democratic Europe, with relevance to peoples’ lives. More needs to be delivered, and less promised. The EPP strongly supports the European Commission’s aim to reduce red tape. The Union does not need be responsible for all areas. The future of Europe goes beyond institutional questions, and modernising the economy does not need new treaty texts. Lisbon contains much of the original substance of the constitutional treaty, but it is not a recipe for a superstate. Nation state will not cease to exist, although some may seek to scare you with talk of false federalist plots. Different countries have characters that are too strong for this. The  European Union needs to be more democratic, and its capacity to act must be improved. National parliamentarians have often complained they have little say over European matters as deficit grows. And Lisbon will reverse these threats. Governments will be able to veto legislative projects which should prevent excessive centralisation. There will be new incentives for national parliaments to monitor what is happening at the European level. A safer, better, stronger Europe is needed, with enhanced ability to act in the world. Lisbon will deliver this.

The appointment of new EU rep for European policy, responsible for foreign relations, will lead to joint policy making based on strategic thinking. Kissinger wanted a single telephone number for international issues. Services that have been rivals for too long need to start helping each other. A single European external action service will be created, single market legislation applied to foreign policy making, which will strengthen trans- Atlantic ties. Visits with leading US politicians will happen, indeed the US advocates a stronger and more united European parliament. We cannot afford unnecessary and internal conflicts. Unity was decisive in bringing down communism, and the same applies today. We face common challenges, for example, the economic crisis and terrorist threat.  Celebrating the 60th anniversary of NATO, Obama noted that the partnership was one to which the US listens. Together we must forge common solutions to common problems. Britain’s role is firmly in heart of Europe. This is appreciated on both sides of the Atlantic.  America has been absolutely vital for Europe, indeed without Marshall Aid there may not have been a Treaty of Rome. For that we should always be thankful to our American cousins. We should never forget role of US and Canada in NATO, which remains key to freedom, prosperity of people. If Europe wishes to influence US thinking, she needs to speak clearly and in a single voice.

The EEP’s new leadership thus supports the US against terrorism, in her efforts at bolstering homeland security, the rule of law and human rights. This is urgently needed: Henry Jackson was right to warn that international terrorism was a modern form of warfare against liberal democracies.

European and US parliaments should develop stronger links. One idea in Brussels is a trans-Atlantic parliamentary assembly, bringing together the US, Canada and Europe. This is important: protection is a renewed danger across globe. We need to encourage competition and regulate technical standards on both sides of Atlantic. Greater consumer choice is an aim we all share. We need a road map with a clear time table. Together the US and Europe must be able to face life together in the global village. The world will not remain unipolar. The G20 has replaced the G8. China and India have rapidly awakening economies. The US economy will shrink by 3.4%, the EU’s by 4.2%. In contrast,  China’s will grow by 8.5%. Europe and America share historic roots that shape the present. The West is not defending a particular country, but both Europe and the US defend a common civilization. EEP is now most powerful force in Europe. It includes 19 heads of government: 13 in the EU and 6 from non EU countries. In Brussels, it has 9 European commissioners, and is the largest group in the European parliament with 265 members. Tomorrow will see a summit meeting of the EEP. This event is organised before every European council, and gathers tog all 13 heads of government from the European Union. Also invited are leaders of political parties affiliated to the EPP. In the past William Hague, Iain Duncan-Smith and Michael Howard were welcomed. In June 1998 an excellent EPP summit was held in Cardiff. Deals are cut, friendships are made, and strategy decided before formal European council. Recently, there have been EEP council meetings for Eurozone and Foreign Affairs Ministers. This network of interdependence has helped countries across the continent, but the UK relationship with the EU has been marred by antipathy. A service directive is being implemented this year: 80,000 jobs will be created in Britain, and other EU countries remain Britain’s main trading partners, accounting for 52 % of her trade in February 2009. In comparison, emerging economies only represent a small proportion of trade for the UK, less than 2%. Today’s leaders are in danger of quickly becoming yesterday’s men. Together, the UK and Europe can build a community of nations. Together we can strengthen Europe. We can make it capable to act globally. It can be a true partner of the US. Europe is Britain’s destiny. A place you should seek to make your own rather than escape from.

There has been traditionally strong correlation between the Conservative party and EPP, especially during the 1990s. Cameron can and probably will win the next election. It will be very important for him to be part of this political family. Hopefully after this period of divergence with the EPP the Conservative party will return to the mainstream European fold, and harmony can be restored.


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