15 Jan 2014

George Osborne warns the EU to ‘reform or decline’

George Osborne emphasises Tory determination to reform the European Union, saying Europe is at risk of falling behind Asia’s economic titans.

George Osborne will warn EU that it faces the risk of economic decline if it does not reform (picture: Getty)

The chancellor told a conference on EU reform that the biggest economic risk to the European Union was “failure to reform or renegotiate”.

He reiterated Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge that the renegotiated terms of Britain’s membership to the EU will be put to the British public in an in/out referendum if the Conservatives return to power at the next general election.

‘Reform or decline’

Mr Osborne said: “The biggest economic risk facing Europe doesn’t come from those who want reform and renegotiation – it comes from a failure to reform and renegotiate.

“It is the status quo which condemns the people of Europe to an ongoing economic crisis and continuing decline. And so there is a simple choice for Europe: reform or decline.

“Our determination is clear: to deliver the reform, and then let the people decide.”

The Conservative party has been under pressure over the UK’s involvement in the EU – from its own Eurosceptic back benchers to Ukip with its increased popularity.

This week, 95 Conservative MPs wrote to the prime minister, urging him to change the law in order to give the House of Commons the power to block any EU legislation. The move was dismissed as “unworkable”.

‘Competitiveness problem’

Mr Osborne said that the economic crisis that began in 2008 had exposed the vulnerability of the group of countries, when faced with the growing economic might of countries such as China and India.

“We knew there was a competitiveness problem in Europe before the crisis,” he will say. “But the crisis has dramatically accelerated the shifts in the tectonic economic plates that see power moving eastwards and southwards on our planet.

“Over the last six years, the European economy has stalled. In the same period, the Indian economy has grown by a third. The Chinese economy by 50 per cent. Over the next 15 years Europe’s share of global output is forecast to halve.

“Make no mistake, our continent is falling behind. Look at innovation, where Europe’s share of world patent applications nearly halved in the last decade. Look at unemployment, where a quarter of young people looking for work can’t find it. Look at welfare.

“As (German chancellor) Angela Merkel has pointed out, Europe accounts for just over 7 per cent of the world’s population, 25 per cent of its economy, and 50 per cent global social welfare spending.”