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Building a Europe for the People
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 countries.

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 state.

"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 discussion.

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 encouraged."

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.      Copyright ©1999, LLC