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British Foreign Secretary: ‘We Should Be in Europe but Not Taken Over by Europe’

December 12, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
In an interview with Jeff Brown, British Foreign Secretary William Hague discusses his country's decision last week to reject an agreement aimed at fixing Europe's debt crisis.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Secretary Hague, welcome.


JEFFREY BROWN: Quoting your coalition partner, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, he says the decision to reject the UE agreement was — quote — “Bad for Britain,” and, “Britain is in danger of being isolated and marginalized in Europe.”

What’s your response, is Britain in danger of being isolated and losing power because of this decision?

WILLIAM HAGUE: No, I think there was a difference of view about that, but my view and the prime minister’s view, very much, is that that is not the danger here. There are huge concerns about the European economy, of course, here in America and in Britain there are huge concerns. But this is not a question for us of being isolated. On the whole range of global issues, and there’s the European Union at work, the United Kingdom remains in a central and driving role. All the issues I’ve been discussing with Secretary Clinton this afternoon. But we won’t sign up to everything, we won’t sign up for everything that’s not in our own interest. It wasn’t in our interest to join the euro, definitely not. And it’s not – it wasn’t in our interest to sign up to the treaty that was on the table last Thursday night.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well Prime Minister Cameron spoke today of concerns for British national sovereignty, specifically a threat to the financial services industry. But isn’t that precisely what the danger would be now? That decisions would be made, financial, economic decisions that – and Britain would not be at the table at the EU.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well, the results of us not signing up to the treaty is that not a single word of the European treaties has been changed. Other countries may form their own treaty, or something, but the European treaties remain exactly the same. No other treaty can undercut or override the treaty of the European Union, in the way that the EU works. And so we continue to enjoy the full rights to take part in the single market and determine the decisions about the single market. So we will be very vigilant in protecting our interests –

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, when –

WILLIAM HAGUE: – within the framework of the whole European Union.

JEFFREY BROWN: Whether it’s treaty or an agreement, Germany and France have certainly made it clear that they will go forward, that there will be regulatory issues on the table. Those, Britain will not be at that table for.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well, as I say, we will be very vigilant in protecting our interests. And we would like to see arrangements which reinforce the protection for free competition in financial services. But since other countries were not prepared to agree at this stage to that reinforcement, to what we were putting on the table, well, then we didn’t agree to go into the treaty. I’m not saying we don’t need further protection for the single market and financial services in the future, but I am saying that that is the kind of thing we will need to see if other countries want us to join in any new treaties in Europe.

JEFFREY BROWN: Many commentators now see a German or a German/French-led and -dominated Europe. Now, explain to an American audience. What do you see for Europe going forward?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well, Europe going forward, to me – if it goes in the right way – becomes larger, for a start. It includes the countries of the western Balkans and Turkey, actually, as members of the European Union. It emphasizes trade, both within its own single market and in a greater number of free-trade agreements with the rest of the world. Because the only way forward now for Western economies isn’t government spending -we’ve reached the limit of that – and it isn’t any monetary policy, other than what the European Central Bank can do. It is trade. It is the growth of enterprise. It’s encouraging small businesses. It’s opening up freer trade with the rest of the world. That is our vision of the way the European Union should be going. And Britain will continue to push that very hard.

JEFFREY BROWN: A commentator on our program on Friday – and one hears this much over the weekend – and our commentator said: It’s much more difficult now to answer the question, will Britain still be in the European Union in five to 10 years. How would you answer that question today?

WILLIAM HAGUE: I don’t think it is difficult to –

JEFFREY BROWN: You don’t think it’s a –

WILLIAM HAGUE: – answer that. I think that when something like this happens, a disagreement that is clearly very highly publicized in the European Council like last Thursday, people start taking up extremes of an opinion. And some who don’t want us to be in the European Union say, ah, this is the beginning…

JEFFREY BROWN: Including many in your party, correct?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Including some, but a small minority in makeup. But predominately in my party is, we should be in Europe but not taken over by Europe. And that is what we seek to say.

JEFFREY BROWN: In but not taken over.

WILLIAM HAGUE: In Europe but not run by Europe has always been my mantra, if you like – has always been the course that I and my party have followed. So some people will say that. Others will say, oh, this is the beginning of isolation and so on. Neither of these extremes is true. The fact is that in Europe there are overlapping circles of decision-making – some countries in the euro and some not. We’re glad we are not.

And some are in the Schengen border immigration system, and some are not. Some are in NATO. We are a leading member of NATO. But others – some of the other EU countries are not. Some work together well on defense, like Britain and France, and others don’t. So we have to get used to the idea that in Europe some countries are in some arrangements and some aren’t. That’s probably the way in which it is going to develop in the future.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, I think that’s the second time you’ve said you’re glad you’re not in the euro. And you seem to say it with special glee, if I – if that’s right, or energy?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well, I say –

JEFFREY BROWN: Even with what’s going on now, do you think this is exposing fundamental problems within the euro – eurozone?

WILLIAM HAGUE: The reason I say that particularly forcefully is because 10 years ago, when I argued in Britain that we should not join the euro, these same charges were made then that are made now: “Ah, you are isolating Britain in some way. You will lose influence in some way.” Now it would have been a catastrophe for us to join the euro, and people can now see that clearly. And so we should have the same confidence in making our own decision now as we had then. Certainly the euro has fundamental problems, which do need to be addressed. If you create a single currency, inevitably you have to create some political mechanisms that follow that up – some greater fiscal controls among the countries involved, if you’re going to make it work. That is what the eurozone countries are now trying to address.

JEFFREY BROWN: And we’ve seen markets today show new concern over Friday’s agreement. How concerned are you about the continuing problem for Europe and for the larger global economy?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well, we remain concerned about the whole global economy, about the result of excessive debt and deficit in the whole – in the United States as well as in the eurozone, of course. We all have to deal with them in each country. In Britain we are dealing with those decisively, as a result of which the British government is now borrowing money more cheaply than ever in our history, and more cheaply than our European partners, because people have confidence in us dealing with it. We need the same confidence in the eurozone, and that needs a bigger firewall to persuade people there won’t be a contagion of risk in the eurozone, adequate recapitalization of banks, and countries like Greece, for instance, to solved their own deficit problems.

JEFFREY BROWN: Another subject. This weekend saw thousands demonstrating in Russia over the recent parliamentary elections. Might we be seeing the beginnings of a kind of Russian Arab spring?

WILLIAM HAGUE: I think that would probably be to generalize too much, to just translate the Arab spring onto Russia.

JEFFREY BROWN: What do you see?

WILLIAM HAGUE: But I – but I do – let me generalize at least to this extent, which is that I think there is an increased desire for accountability across a large part of the world, particularly where people feel cut off from government, not taking part in the decisions of government. That will take different forms in different countries. It’s partly fed by the information revolution we’re experiencing in the world, transmitting ideas of freedom, and also transmitting some of the things governments do wrong. So there is some relationship between that and what we’ve seen in the Arab world and elsewhere. And we hope Russia responds to that properly with freedom, with investigations of any abuses in the elections, which President Medvedev has offered, by respecting peaceful protests and – Secretary Clinton said at my news conference with her earlier – we’re glad that these protests, the recent protests, have been treated in a peaceful way.

JEFFREY BROWN: And on Iran, your embassy in Tehran was recently attacked. You’ve called for new sanctions. Are new sanctions going to be sufficient to force change in the regime, particularly of course on the nuclear program?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well, we don’t know, of course, the answer to that question. But we do know that this is a way of intensifying peaceful pressure – peaceful, legitimate pressure on a regime which has serious questions to answer about its nuclear program, questions that it doesn’t answer adequately at the moment. We don’t want to see military conflict in Iran, nor do we want to see nuclear proliferation. So what we have to try is the offer of negotiation, but at the same time intensify the pressure. And we join with the United States and our European partners in intensifying that pressure. We will have further sanctions to announce over the coming months.

JEFFREY BROWN: Are you satisfied with the responses you got after the sacking of your embassy as to who was responsible, whether the government, or what elements within the government allowed it to happen?

WILLIAM HAGUE: No, I’m not satisfied at all. This was a gross breach of the Vienna Convention that requires the protection of diplomats and diplomatic property. I did receive an apology from my counterpart, the Iranian foreign minister, and I’m not accusing him of complicity in this. But I think there is a divided regime in Iran, and I think it is beyond question that there were elements of that regime – obviously powerful elements in that regime – which sponsored and helped to orchestrate the attacks on our embassy. Under those circumstances we can’t maintain an embassy in Tehran, and therefore I also asked all Iranian diplomats to leave the United Kingdom, which they have now done.

JEFFREY BROWN: And one more subject, Syria. And also speaking again of sanctions, are sanctions going to be enough in Syria to stop the Assad regime from killing its own people?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well, clearly they’re not enough so far. We’ve imposed sanctions from the EU. I think what has changed very importantly in the last few weeks is that the Arab League have imposed their own sanctions – not implemented by all of their members, and importantly not implemented by Iraq and by Lebanon on the borders of Syria. But nevertheless, this is a very strong message and increases the pressure on the Assad regime.

JEFFREY BROWN: Except he hasn’t stopped the killing.

WILLIAM HAGUE: He hasn’t felt the pressure – of course, I would be in favor of intensifying that international pressure. We have tried to pass a resolution at the U.N. Security Council that has been blocked by Russia and China from doing so. I hope that if this situation, this appalling situation continues to deteriorate, then Russia and China will reconsider their attitude, so that the international community as a whole can unite in condemnation of the deplorable action of the Assad regime.

JEFFREY BROWN: And do you think that President Assad must step down, must leave?

WILLIAM HAGUE: I do, yes. We – Prime Minister David Cameron at the same time as President Obama in – (inaudible) – said that this regime had lost credibility that President Assad should go. I think too much blood has been spilled there now for that regime to recover its credibility not only in the eyes of the world but in the eyes of its own people. And so the best possible future for Syria is, of course, a free and democratic future, but it is one without the regime that has now governed them for too long.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. British Foreign Secretary William Hague, thank you so much.