British Ambassador visits flandersnews.be

Last week European Union leaders met in Brussels to agree action to tackle the Euro Crisis. They had hoped to strike a deal on treaty change but in the event modifications to the EU's Lisbon Treaty were vetoed by the UK Government and the 26 other members were obliged to agree to impose strict new budgetary restrictions on their own. The decision of the UK Government to use its veto and stop agreement on a new treaty has been met by incomprehension in many quarters. Many people across the EU do not understand why the UK decided to turn its back on its EU partners at the height of the Euro Crisis and prevent unanimous agreement.

flandersnews spoke with Jonathan Brenton, the British ambassador in Belgium, and first asked him to explain the UK Government's decision.

Jonathan Brenton said that the UK wanted the euro to succeed and that the British Prime Minister David Cameron had been prepared to support treaty change. But in return the UK government insisted on safeguards to ensure that key decisions affecting 27 member states would be made at 27, and the City of London – which is of vital interest to both the UK and the EU economy – would not face discrimination. The ambassador said that sadly agreement could not be reached on this 'fair request'. Mr Brenton stressed that the UK saw the EU as a network, not a bloc. The UK was not involved in every aspect of the EU’s activity but it was an "active, engaged and ambitious" player across the board.

 The UK ambassador denied that his country's position now meant that the UK was isolated in the EU: " UK Ministers work closely with their counterparts in areas as diverse as climate change or external relations. Decisions in areas where we are involved will have to be taken at 27 and we will retain influence."

Quizzed about whether the events of last week put Britain on the slippery slope towards exit from the EU Mr Brenton was keen to make clear that this was not the case: "We are committed members of the EU. We also have a proud democratic tradition. Our EU policy has to be based on democratic support. The vast majority of the British people do not want integration for its own sake, but they do support EU membership."

 

Warm words for Belgium

Jonathan Brenton, the UK ambassador in Belgium, made his comments during a visit to VRT News in Brussels.

The ambassador, who has been en poste in Brussels since May 2010, heard how VRT News radio, TV and online services had been integrated on two floors at VRT Centre and provided news services to the company's two television channels, five radio stations and VRT websites including flandersnews.be.

After a guided tour of our newsroom and studios Mr Brenton was also able to see how the One o'clock news went on the air. Afterwards flandersnews quizzed the UK Ambassador about Britain's relationship with Belgium and the EU.

Mr Brenton stressed that Belgium and the UK were active partners both in the EU and in NATO. The UK ambassador had words of praise for Belgium's contribution to the NATO mission to enforce the UN resolution on Libya. Belgium flew over 7% of the aircraft sorties with a targeting success rate of over 90%.

Mr Brenton also lauded the role played by the Belgian Presidency and Belgian EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht in securing a free trade agreement with South Korea as well as the Presidency’s work securing progress on an EU patent.

Belgium is the UK's sixth largest export market (by volume, larger than China). The UK ambassador pointed to the numerous cultural ties between Belgium and the UK and noted that British visitors are responsible for the second largest number of overnight stays in Brussels. Many Belgian people will be travelling to the UK next year to attend the Olympic Games. Some 34,000 tickets have been made available in Belgium and there are also many non-ticketed events.

Jonathan Brenton spoke of the warm personal relationships between the UK and Belgium: "I regularly attend ceremonies at war memorials across Flanders and I'm always struck by the warmth of the local people and the commitment shown by Mayors, teachers, veterans and ordinary citizens. "