First, welcome to Lancaster House for the launching of this “Europe Open for Business” campaign.
It is the first step along the path of preparing Britain's companies to take the opportunities presented by completion of the Single Market in the European Community in 1992. [end p308]
We must get this right. Too often in the past Britain has missed opportunities.
How we meet the challenge of the Single Market will be a major factor, possibly the major factor, in our competitive position in European and world markets into the twenty-first century. [end p309] Getting it right needs a partnership between government and business.
The task of government is two-fold: —to negotiate in Brussels so as to get the possible results for Britain; —and then to make you the business community aware of the opportunities, so that you can make the most of them. [end p310]
It's your job, the job of business, to gear yourselves up to take the opportunities which a single market of nearly 320 million people will offer.
Just think for a moment what a prospect that is. A single market without barriers—visible or invisible—giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power [end p311] of over 300 million of the world's wealthiest and most prosperous people.
Bigger than Japan. Bigger than the United States. On your doorstep. And with the Channel Tunnel to give you direct access to it.
It's not a dream. [end p312] It's not a vision. It's not some bureaucrat's plan. It's for real. And it's only five years away.
Completing the Single Market
You might say: weren't we supposed to have a common market already? Wasn't that the reason we joined Europe in the first place? [end p313] Weren't we promised all this in 1973?
It's a fair question to ask. And the truthful answer is: Europe wasn't open for business. Underneath the rhetoric, the old barriers remained. Not just against the outside world, but between the European countries. [end p314]
Not the classic barriers of tariffs, but the insiduous ones of differing national standards, various restrictions on the provision of services, exclusion of foreign firms from public contracts.
Now that's going to change. Britain has given the lead. [There was a tendency in Europe to talk in lofty tones of European Union. [end p315]
That may be good for the soul. But the body—Europe's firms and organisations and the people who work in them—needs something more nourishing.]
We recognised that if Europe was going to be more than a slogan then we must get the basics right. That meant action. [end p316]
Action to get rid of the barriers. Action to make it possible for insurance companies to do business throughout the Community. Action to let people practice their trades and professions freely throughout the Community. Action to remove the customs barriers and formalities so that goods can circulate [end p317] freely and without time-consuming delays. Action to make sure that any company could sell its goods and services without let or hindrance. Action to secure free movement of capital throughout the Community.
All this is what Europe is now committed to do. In 1985 the Community's Heads of [end p318] Government gave a pledge to complete the single market by 1992. To make sure that it was not just a pious hope, they made that pledge part of the Treaty, as the Single European Act.
So it's going to happen. Indeed the barriers are already coming down. Monsieur Delors, the President of the [end p319] Commission, and our own Commissioner Arthur Cockfield, deserve a lot of credit for the way in which they are keeping up the momentum.
So far Britain hasn't done nearly well enough in trade with Europe. True, the direction of our trade has been [end p320] transformed. Half of it is now with the European Community.
But the balance is nothing like satisfactory, especially in manufactured goods. The fact is that although we haven't done very well in Europe, Europe has done very well in Britain. [end p321]
Our national failure to make the most of the opportunities when we joined the Community was part of a much more general failure.
In those days, Britain was in the forefront of those resisting change, in fighting to preserve the barriers.
Some in Britain still see it that way, but they are getting fewer and fewer. [end p322]
The difference is that now we can look forward with confidence to sweeping away the barriers. We have a highly successful economy. We have had seven years of growth. Job creation in this country is unmatched anywhere else in Europe.
We have a climate in Britain in which business [end p323] wants to succeed and can succeed. We have a chance to be world leaders again.
The task now is to harness that spirit of enterprise to tackling the challenge of the Single Market.
But five years isn't long. [end p324] Indeed it barely takes you into the next Conservative government! It means that business needs to prepare itself quickly. Starting right now.
You have shown by coming here today that you recognise the challenge and are aware of what needs to be done. But the message needs to be spread much [end p325] more widely. Today's conference is not just a one-off event. That is why we have set ourselves a target of ensuring that over 90%; of British firms are aware of the 1992 commitment by the end of this year. It must be the start of a sustained national effort to ensure that everyone in business, in industry, in the service [end p326] sector, is aware of the challenge.
And not just in business and industry. We are putting the European Community to work for ordinary people: for cheaper air fares, for more and better services, for consumer choice and product safety.
We know a lot about the obligations of Community membership. [end p327] Now it's time to seize the opportunities too.
We in government will do our part. David Young will be leading a major five-year campaign to take the message to every part of the country. Today's conference will be followed by twenty regional conferences and more detailed seminars throughout the country. [end p328]
You too can help by spreading the message throughout British business.
But awareness is only the start of the battle. Companies need to identify the new opportunities and go out and seize them.
By 1993 Europe will be our home market. That means that we won't just be exporting [end p329] to eleven other countries. We will be doing business in a single domestic market.
Getting to grips with that basic proposition will mean a major re-think, for companies of every size: —it means looking afresh at all your plans and priorities: [end p330] —it means searching out opportunities to sell to new customers, and develop new products; —it means looking at what your competitors are doing, both British and in the other Member States; —it means considering all the options [end p331] for doing business, including joint ventures, acquisitions, establishing local outlets, as well as exporting in the traditional sense.
Above all, it means a positive attitude of mind: a decision to go all out to make a success of the single market.