European Union Trade Commissioner Sir Leon Brittan yesterday called for a fixed date for introducing universal suffrage. At a lunch hosted by the Trade Development Council, Sir Leon urged Hong Kong not to repeat mistakes Europe had made in the past when developing democracy. 'Europe discovered democracy the hard way, by trying all the alternatives first at great social and economic cost,' he said. 'Hong Kong, though a different case, would be well advised to learn from our mistakes, and make clear its commitment wholeheartedly to full democracy. 'The best way of doing that is to announce soon its belief in the introduction of universal franchise at a specific and not unduly delayed date. The authorities would earn considerable respect at little cost.' Under the Basic Law, the number of directly elected geographical seats will gradually rise to half of the legislature by 2007. Full universal suffrage will only be introduced with the consent of the chief executive and two-thirds of the legislature. Sir Leon maintained 'true democracy brings stability, and, indeed, economic prosperity'. 'That is why we regard it as a positive sign when we read of demonstrations or media criticism of public figures in Hong Kong. To us, they are the outward signs that fundamental freedoms are alive and well.' He said the European Union was watching the development of the electoral process with close interest. 'We welcome the forthcoming replacement of the provisional legislature as a sign that the SAR is sticking to its word,' he said. Sir Leon, fresh from a mainland visit, said the EU was highly impressed by the way the SAR had handled its affairs since the handover and was 'reassured by the role of Beijing'. He said Hong Kong had kept an independent free market economy partly because Beijing has adopted a 'careful, hands-off approach'.