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Last Updated: Friday, 3 October, 2003, 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK
Viewpoint: UK can be strong EU player
In one of a series of articles for BBC News Online by members of European governments, UK Europe Minister Denis MacShane explains what he is seeking from the intergovernmental conference on the EU constitution.

John F Kennedy once famously said "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate."

When the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary fly to Rome this weekend for the beginning of the inter-governmental conference, they will be accompanied by a clamour in the British press warning that the Government is about to give away its Queen, the flag, its army, the currency, or North Sea oil.

They will warn in deadly earnestness that we stand on the brink of a European superstate. The inescapable thrust of their argument on Europe is that we'd be better off getting out than getting stuck in.

Denis MacShane

For as long as I can remember we've suffered from this national crisis of confidence when it comes to Europe.

Everywhere we stand up for what we believe, we make our case and we prevail. In the UN, in Nato, in the IMF, in the Commonwealth, in the world, Britain's voice is confident, positive and persuasive.

We know Britain is a strong player in the world, so why do so many people seem to think that in Europe, we are always a loser?

Why do some newspapers treat the EU like a card game where the deck, the players and the odds are stacked against us?

Why do they always look for defeats and setbacks for Britain? Why are they so determined to ignore our successes?

New players

Let's look at the other players in Europe. There are now 25 of us, meaning less chance for small groups of players to control the agenda and a fairer, more democratic game where no one player has the odds stacked against them.

The effort of improving the draft constitution can be compared to that of a student who does optional subjects to get top marks on his report
Czech Foreign Minister
Cyril Svoboda

Many of those new players share our notion of the game we should be playing, where nation states are the players not the stake and where all those around the table are winners.

Many of those players share our position on some of the key issues we will face in the coming months.

Many are or soon will be members of Nato. They agree with us that Nato should remain responsible for Europe's territorial defence and that Europe should be properly equipped to take on peacekeeping missions overseas.

They too agree that we should strive to create a common foreign policy, acting together where we can, pooling our influence in the world. And they too want to keep control of key areas of economic activity.

British influence

While some people here refuse to believe that Britain can punch her weight in Europe, other countries have no doubt that we can - and already do.

The British have fought excellently and achieved what they wanted
German newspaper, Handelsblatt

Take for example the French commentator Robert Badinter, who says the draft Treaty should be dubbed "La Britannique", so far does it reflect British influence.

Or the German newspaper Handelsblatt which concluded that in the European Convention "The British have fought excellently and achieved what they wanted".

I saw this for myself on Monday when I sat with 24 other European ministers.

A new Europe, a network Europe in which Britain can be a key player, in Europe and running Europe if we can let go off the visceral anti-Europeanism that infects some parts of the media.

The Netherlands can certainly live with the draft constitution, but we see definite room for improvement
Dutch Europe Minister
Atzo Nicolai

Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, the Baltic states and our Commonwealth friends from Malta and Cyprus will join with us in making sure tomorrow's European Union fashions a constitution that serves the people of Europe and lets us grow together rather than fall out and fall apart - Europe's fate early last century.

So we are very much in the majority in Europe, leading the debates not losing them. We have the arguments and we have the supporters.

It's for this reason that we don't share the kind of hysterical fear of majority voting we see in the media.

All is not lost

Listen to them and you'd be forgiven for thinking we are consistently outvoted. Dead wrong. We're rarely outvoted and rarely in the minority.

Our crisis of confidence in Europe means we risk losing the initiative
Even when majority voting is unquestioningly to our advantage, as with immigration and asylum, some are still opposed.

Majority voting for immigration and asylum could mean no more Sangattes.

It means all member states playing their part in bearing the burden of immigration.

It means creating solutions to a problem we can't solve alone and which can't be blocked by one country alone. Yet still our crisis of confidence in Europe means we risk losing the initiative.

We're very far from being outvoted, outplayed or outmanoeuvred in this negotiation, but reading our newspapers the reader would be forgiven for believing that all is already lost.

The only way to approach a negotiation is to be confident that you have the numbers and the argument on your side. We are, and it's time others were too.

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