London, 18 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind today calls for the enlargement of NATO and the European Union to include the Central and East European countries, setting 1999 as the target date for the first new NATO members.
Rifkind was to make the call in the Churchill commemoration speech at Zurich University. It marks the 50th anniversary of a speech by Winston Churchill when Britain's wartime prime minister set out his vision of reconciliation in post-war Europe (The text of Rifkind's speech, as prepared for delivery, was released by the Foreign Office.)
Recalling Churchill's vision of a European "family" of nations, Rifkind said that Britain wants a flexible European Union "open to all." He said now the Central and East European countries are again free and democratic, "the time has come for Europe to look outwards."
Rifkind said he hoped that NATO -- which he called a major source of stability in Europe -- will admit its first members from Central and East Europe in 1999 when the alliance marks its 50th anniversary.
He said he hoped that the first wave of the enlargement of the EU to the east and south "can be accomplished as soon as possible after that."
Rifkind said Britain wants to strengthen European defense cooperation and to help the Central and East European nations build their own prosperity in order to fortify Europe's wider stability.
In order to achieve this, the EU must press on with enlargement and open up its markets to its eastern neighbors.
"If we want to help the people of Central and Eastern Europe, let us be bold about opening our markets to their goods, and not haggle over quotas and tariffs," he said.
Rifkind spelled out Britain's view that Europe should be a partnership of nations, not a United States of Europe. In a warning to Germany and France, he said Europe should not proceed towards integration "faster or further than our people are prepared to go." He said Britain wanted a flexible EU "open to all, agreed by all."
He suggested that moving too fast down the path of integration is one reason for the growing sense of disillusionment with the EU across Europe, not just in Britain, but in Germany, France and Denmark.
Rifkind said that pushing ahead with a single currency will split the EU into two groups. He said half the EU's members and almost all the 12 applicant countries -- including the Central and East European countries -- will be unable to meet the necessary convergence criteria.
Rifkind, who privately opposes Britain joining a single currency in 1999, said: "Such a divided EU was not what the Founding Fathers had in mind." He said the implications of a single currency need more study.
Although critical of over-hasty moves towards integration, Rifkind praised Germany, seen by critics as the 'locomotive' of this process. He said Germany is the embodiment of Europe's "spirit of reconciliation" and "symbolizes in itself the recreation of our European family."
He also said the West European nations have an ethical obligation and a strong self-interest in assisting Ukraine and other nations that have emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union in their determination to retain their independence and their integrity. He also welcomed the fact that Russia has embarked on "reform at home and partnership abroad."
Recalling Churchill's original Zurich speech, Rifkind concluded: "Fifty years from 1946, our vision is of a Europe comfortable for all its people."