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New government in Britain seeks greater influence in EU

Britain's new foreign secretary has called for more 'global reach and influence' in his first speech since taking office. William Hague said that establishing a stronger presence in Brussels was crucial for the UK.

William Hague.

Hague wants more Brits in senior EU positions

Britain's new coalition government will seek to increase the country's influence in the European Union, and the wider world, according to the new foreign secretary, William Hague.

In his first address since taking office, former Conservative party leader Hague said that British influence in Brussels had dwindled under the past thirteen years of Labour government.

"It is mystifying to us that the previous government failed to give due weight to the exercise of British influence in the EU," he told assembled diplomats and journalists at the Foreign Office in London on Thursday.

"They (Labour) neglected to ensure that sufficient numbers of bright British officials entered EU institutions, and so we now face a generation gap developing in the British presence in parts of the EU," he said.

Hague, like many senior members of the Conservative party, is considered a euro-skeptic, but the new government - allied in coalition with the pro-European Liberal Democrats - has shown a willingness to work with Brussels, calling for greater influence in the bloc, rather than withdrawal from it.

British troops in the field in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

9,500 British troops are currently serving in Afghanistan

Wider scope

Hague put special emphasis on the UK's close relationship with the US in his speech, saying the alliance was "unbreakable."

However, he also said the UK would need to broaden the scope of its foreign policy in the coming years to reflect global developments.

"In recent years, Britain's approach to building relationships with new and emerging powers has been ad hoc and patchy, giving rise to the frequent complaint from such governments that British ministers only get in touch when a crisis arises or a crucial vote is needed," Hague said. The foreign secretary called for stronger ties with emerging economic giants like Brazil, India and China.

Hague pointed out that the UK currently exports more to Ireland than India, China and Russia combined.

In the short term, one of Britain's largest challenges in foreign policy will remain Afghanistan, where some 9,500 troops are fighting a Taliban insurgency as part of the ISAF force in the country. Britain is the second-largest contributor to the mission in Afghanistan, as it was to the US-led conflict in Iraq.

Author: Mark Hallam (AFP/Reuters)
Editor: Rob Turner

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