Liberal International

Isaiah Berlin lezing door Mark Rutte

Hans van Baalen, president Liberal International , woensdag 30 oktober 2013

Vandaag is door premier Mark Rutte in The National Liberal Club in London de jaarlijkse Isaiah Berlin-lezing gehouden. Hans van Baalen, president van de Liberale Internationale trad op als gastheer. Co-referent van Rutte was Secretary of state for Business, Innovation and Skill, Vince Cable MP (Liberal Democrats). In de ochtend bezochten Mark Rutte en Hans van Baalen de Britse Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg MP (Liberal Democrats).

De volledige lezing kunt u hier terugkijken


Isaiah Berlin Lecture, Mark Rutte, London, 30 October 2013

Ladies and gentlemen,

 ‘All my ideas I owe to Britain. Ideas to do with showing tolerance, working for a decent society, and realising human beings aren’t perfect. And a deep belief in the empirical method, taking experience and observation as the only source of knowledge about our world. All that comes from Britain.’

These are not my words, but I can relate to them. And to the country of Shakespeare, Dickens, Mill, Locke and …Yes Minister. The speaker was Isaiah Berlin, and he paid this tribute to Britain in an interview with a Dutch newspaper in 1983. I can understand why Berlin was grateful that his parents had chosen to come to this country. A country where Isaiah, born in present-day Latvia, was able to lead a long, productive and successful life. A country where his parents felt secure enough to build a new life for themselves. A life founded on freedom, security and prosperity, in a country where neither fascism nor communism ever took root.

Liberals owe a lot to the philosophy of Isaiah Berlin. His distinction between negative and positive freedom still provides a useful tool for analysing our own ideas. It touches on the question of whether our actions increase or decrease the liberty of the individual, or of the collective. To Berlin, positive freedom was about the desire to shape your own life. To be your own master. To lead your life as you see fit.

It is government’s task to put in place the conditions to make that possible. Positive freedom requires government involvement. But Berlin warned that involvement must not become interference. That can give rise to social and political tensions. Consider for instance the debate in the United States about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, ‘ObamaCare’. In Europe, we take compulsory healthcare cover for granted, but in the US it is a deeply divisive issue. It pits the advocates of positive freedom against the advocates of negative freedom. The argument is about more than what the programme costs. It is also about freedom and the role of government.

Supporters of the Act want everyone, regardless of income, to have access to health care. This is government using positive freedom to actively support people. Opponents of ObamaCare are outraged at the compulsory nature of the Act. They can’t tolerate the idea of being deprived of their freedom not to take out health insurance. As they see it, this infringes their inalienable right to individual freedom. Berlin quotes from Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan to capture the essence of negative freedom. ‘A free man’, says Hobbes ‘is he that [...] is not hindered to do what he hath the will to do.’ Opponents of ObamaCare want to be able to decide for themselves whether or not they are insured. And they don’t see why they should pay a fine if they aren’t. In their eyes, government is interfering in the private domain – an argument traditionally employed by people who support the concept of negative freedom.

The example of ObamaCare shows that tensions between positive and negative freedom can run high. It all comes down to the question ‘Who is responsible for what?’ In relations between people, between people and government, but also in relations between governments. And this brings me to Europe. Here in Europe many people are asking a similar question: ‘Who’s in charge? Us or Europe?’

Let me say that the Netherlands, and I myself, support European cooperation. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We know that cooperation within the European Union adds value. The single market is worth between 1,500 and 2,200 euros a year to every person in the Netherlands. But we have to look carefully at which tasks are better performed by member states, and which by Europe.

The European Union is a practical partnership between countries which share many of the same values. Freedom, security, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. And it was an economic project from the very beginning. But Europe is not an end in itself. It is a means to increase prosperity, employment and security.

When the present Dutch government took office, we carried out a survey. We analysed existing rules drawn up in Brussels, and rules that were being proposed. We came up with a list of areas we think the Netherlands should be responsible for, like health care, education and taxation. Our aim is not to negotiate opt-outs in these areas, but to work towards a better division of tasks between the EU and its member states. In the spirit of subsidiarity and proportionality.

Our guiding principle should be this: make policy as close as possible to the people it affects. So issues like wage bargaining, pensions and termination of employment should not be dealt with at EU level. We in the Netherlands think these are matters for the member states. These are fundamental principles of national labour markets and social security. This is why the Netherlands also opposes setting a European minimum wage. Economic differences within Europe are too great for us to regulate this kind of issue at EU level. 

When people discuss a balanced division of tasks between Europe and the member states, they often end up with a list of what Europe should not concern itself with. But we also need to say what Europe should do. Elections will be held again next year, and we will have a new European Commission with a new President. What priorities should the new Commission set? I would suggest two: making the single market more robust and stimulating international trade.

Earlier this month, the UK’s Business Taskforce highlighted precisely these two tasks as being vital to Europe’s economic future. The Taskforce, whose members include Marks & Spencer chief executive Marc Bolland, published a report describing the barriers facing British business. The title, ‘Cut EU red tape’, sums up the message of the report. Its main criticisms centre on needless EU rules.

Besides barriers to trade, the report also describes opportunities. Opportunities to make Europe lean and mean, to make it easier for firms to do business both at home and abroad. This means not only scrapping unnecessary rules, but also making sure future rules are, and I quote, ‘unashamedly pro-growth’ and ‘pro-innovation’. By amending or scrapping rules, says the report, ‘billions of pounds, euros, zloty and kroner could be saved, while thousands of new firms and new jobs could be created.’

The single market is the engine for growth and jobs in Europe. A strong single market is also the most visible and tangible evidence of the EU’s added value. Europeans feel it in their wallets. And we haven’t realised the full potential of the single market. If we want to earn more money within Europe’s borders, we need to take steps like implementing the Services Directive more fully and more effectively. This will increase the EU’s earning capacity.

Let me give you an example. In the Netherlands the service sector accounts for 80% of our national economy. But the figure for the export of those same services is nowhere near that: only 20%. Dutch firms, like their British counterparts, face barriers to the problem-free export of services. So far, the Services Directive has yielded Europe’s economy an extra 100 billion euros. Further implementation of the Directive could raise that amount to 330 billion euros. It’s an opportunity we can’t afford to ignore.

Another potential growth area for the European market is the online economy. Modern economies rely heavily on the internet. So the European Digital Agenda is a key initiative for the incoming Commission, and its implementation should be speeded up. The sooner we have broadband internet in place across Europe, the sooner we can promote extra growth. According to estimates, implementing the European Digital Agenda will result in 5% extra growth and 3.8 million extra jobs. These figures provide clear insight into Europe’s opportunities for growth. This is the future. This is the added value of European cooperation.

But that cooperation is not limited to trade within Europe’s borders. Economic opportunities exist all around the world. We should seize them with both hands. If we want to attract foreign investors and future trading partners, we have to get Europe’s financial house in order. And that is exactly what we are doing. Introducing stricter budget rules. Giving support to member states facing financial problems, on condition that they carry out reforms and comply with strict budget rules.
Creating a mechanism for banking supervision as a step towards a banking union. All these measures will build confidence in Europe among current and potential foreign trading partners. It makes Europe, as a trading bloc, a strong and attractive partner for free trade agreements. Agreements that mean better access to foreign markets, make Europe more competitive, and reduce costs.

We are now working on free trade agreements with a range of countries: from the United States and Japan to Asia’s emerging economies. These agreements could deliver lasting economic growth of 2% for all European countries and two million new jobs. The more trade agreements we reach with other countries, the more the people of Europe will benefit.

The trade agreement between the European Union and Canada concluded earlier this month will generate about 12 billion euros a year for the member states. It will now be easier for European companies to do business with Canada as customs duties and trade barriers are reduced or eliminated completely. This means more trade, so more prosperity for the European member states as well as Canada. The Netherlands stands to earn between 600 million and 1.2 billion euros a year under the agreement.

To recap, it comes down to three things: a stronger single market, Europe as an international trading bloc and a clearly defined division of tasks between member states and the EU. We are heading in the right direction. We are working hard to restore financial calm and stability. We are working hard on our own investment climate. We are working hard on innovation and reforms. We have all we need to look to the future with confidence. And more and more we are getting results for the people of Europe. That’s good. But also essential. Because the EU still draws a lot of distrust and scepticism. In the Netherlands and here in the UK.

These are feelings we have to take seriously. This means doing more than simply noting that they exist. It means we have to show people the benefits that Europe brings. Not only in tables and diagrams. But the benefits it brings to their daily lives.

According to the Commission’s Eurobarometer opinion poll, people are optimistic about the future of the EU in 19 of the 28 member states. That means that people are pessimistic in nine member states. You can’t lift that pessimism by making speeches, and that’s not my intention. You can only do so by delivering tangible results. By making the single market stronger. By increasing economic ties with the rest of the world. By making it clear what tasks should be carried out by Europe, and what can be done by national governments. These are three things that the UK also cares deeply about. Which is why we must continue to work together. Because that is what it will take to reform Europe from the inside. Europe is home to about 7% of the world’s population but we account for about 20 to 25% of the world economy and 50% of global spending on social security. We cannot assume that this will always stay that way. We have to work hard to make changes and reforms in good time.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I stand here today in the country that became the home of Isaiah Berlin. The country he associated with tolerance, decency, humanity, knowledge and freedom. The country that gave him the chance to become one of the greatest intellectuals of his day. This country offered him a home, prosperity and opportunities. And this is precisely what every  member state wants for its people. This is why we all need to pull together to make Europe an economic powerhouse. So that every European can realise their full potential. What is good for the individual, is good for us all. We have everything we need to make Europe work in our best interest. But that means we have to get to work. And that’s something you can rely on liberals to do.

Thank you.

Zie ook: : Rutte: burger moet voordelen EU kunnen voelen Rutte in Londen: Europa is vanaf het begin een economisch project