In an unusually pro-European speech on Tuesday (24 March) UK prime minister Gordon Brown insisted that Britain was one of the EU's key players and that the 27-nation bloc was in a unique position to lead the way out of the global financial crisis by re-inserting "a strong sense of values" in the financial markets.
"I stand here today proud to be British and proud to be European," Mr. Brown told MEPs in Strasbourg.
The UK has often been subject to criticism for not being sufficiently involved in EU affairs, notably due to its opt-outs from various EU areas such as justice and home affairs or the common European currency.
But the British premier stressed that he was "representing a country that does not see itself as an island adrift from Europe but as a country at the centre of Europe; not in Europe's slipstream but firmly in its mainstream."
He also said the EU was "uniquely placed" to provide world leadership in finding a way out of the "international hurricane that is sweeping the world."
The bloc has a long history of cross-border co-operation and "a strong sense of values" it can bring to the markets, he added.
"I propose that we in Europe take a central role" in setting up "a new principled economy for our times," Mr. Brown said.
The prime minister's speech in the European Parliament was the first stop in a quick world tour that will also see him landing in the US, Brazil and Chile, ahead of the G20 meeting he is is host next week (2 April) in London.
At the G20 summit, the EU is going to push for additional financial regulation as well as for "the beginning of the end for offshore tax havens and offshore centres," Mr. Brown said.
Protectionism—the politics of retreat and fear
The British premier also re-iterated his warnings against economic protectionism, which he called "the politics of defeatism".
"I know that the temptation for some is to meet this new insecurity with retreat, to try to feel safe by attempting to pull up the drawbridge or turn the clock back," Mr. Brown told MEPs.
"But I tell you if there's anything we know from history, it is that protectionism is the politics of defeatism, retreat and fear and in the end protects no one at all," he added.
The debate on protectionism in Europe was sparked by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was accused of economic nationalism after unveiling a package in February to help the French car industry.
But an EU summit on 1 March in Brussels ended with the assurance that no EU country intended to breach the bloc's single market rules by putting in place policies aimed at protecting their own industries.
In its bid to exit the crisis and building a more moral financial system, Europe must also work for a strong co-operation with the new American administration, according to Mr. Brown.
"Never in recent years have we had an American leadership so keen at all levels to co-operate with Europe on financial stability, climate change, security and development, and seldom has such co-operation been so obviously of benefit to us and to all the world," he said.
For his part, US President Barack Obama also called for joint action ahead of the G20 summit.
"My message is clear: The United States is ready to lead, and we call upon our partners to join us with a sense of urgency and common purpose," Mr. Obama wrote in an article published in 30 newspapers around the world on Tuesday.
"Only co-ordinated international action can prevent the irresponsible risk-taking that caused this crisis. That is why I am committed to seizing this opportunity to advance comprehensive reforms of our regulatory and supervisory framework," the American president wrote.
He also re-iterated calls on world governments to "stimulate growth."
The US had previously defended the stance that countries should focus more on additional fiscal measures and spending, but most EU states—notably France and Germany—have been arguing that the bloc is already spending enough and that the emphasis should now be put on tighter regulation.
"I know that America bears our share of responsibility for the mess that we all face. But I also know that we need not choose between a chaotic and unforgiving capitalism and an oppressive government-run economy. That is a false choice that will not serve our people or any people," Mr. Obama wrote.
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