Speeches recovered from the Conservative party’s online archive More…

Stevenson: Scotland's place in the new Europe

Speech to the Conservative Policy Forum

"One of the most demanding parts of an MEP's job is to put it over to the voters how much of their everyday life is already governed from Europe. It can be one of the most frustrating parts of the job too, because the voters do not readily accept the argument. In Britain, after all, we have grown up with parliamentary democracy. Our institutions have evolved over the centuries. They may wear out a little from time to time. But our people agree as a matter of principle that they can be repaired in a pragmatic fashion to adjust to new problems.

Our national institutions have always proved capable of reform in this way. That is why the people's identification with them remains so strong. A great majority supports the monarchy. Nobody but a shrinking minority of left wing Nationalists wants to rid us of the Parliament at Westminster, though some of its powers have now been devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Such is the tried, trusted and successful way we do things in Britain. The one problem that comes over to me as an MEP is that we then find it hard to grasp how some of our European neighbours want to do things in a far different way. The difference is natural enough. They do not have the same long tradition of peaceful change. Their histories have been interrupted by revolutions and wars, by invasions and conquests, by civil strife and dictatorships. They have developed into modern democracies not through a gradual process of trial and error, through learning what is best by trying to do it.

Instead, every so often they have broken down as nation states and had to start again. Then they tend to impose on themselves some fashionable political idea, some neat answer to all the world's problems. They appeal not to experience but to theory. That was what happened during the two decades following the Second World War, with the foundation of what was to become the European Union.

Whatever else the EU may be, it is not a parliamentary democracy. We the people have little say in the process of making policy in Brussels, except at one remove in electing the governments represented in the Council of Ministers, and except in the opinions expressed by our MEPs, who in some areas have co-decision or legislative powers. Yet the powers of the bureaucracy in Brussels have grown. The Commission is now responsible for 80 per cent of the laws and of the regulations we live under in Britain. Most voters do not yet understand how powerful that bureaucracy has become. I make it my job to tell them, yet the natural assumptions of people who have grown up under a parliamentary democracy are hard to overcome. The danger is that we sleepwalk into a nightmare from which there will be no escape.

I say so because no voter who can be persuaded to look at the issues even for a moment will be able to miss the fact that we may be standing at the threshold of a new era in Europe. It could pose a greater threat than ever to the tried and trusted British way of doing things.

Europe, once again, has to be reformed. Yet the theory behind the reforms now being proposed to us is that the European bureaucracy should become even more powerful. To wield its power to greater effect, new executive offices should be created. This is offensive to our traditions of parliamentary democracy. It is also destructive to the desire of the Scottish people to take more decisions for themselves. Scotland is in Europe and Scotland should stay in Europe, but not at that price. With our votes at the coming election, we can defeat this threat to our way of life as a parliamentary democracy.

The first thing we have to do at this coming European election is save the £. That cannot happen unless we win a resounding vote of confidence in the Conservative Party. No other party stands on the principle of the £. The Liberal Democrats and the Nationalists have adopted the opposite principle of getting rid of the £, come what may. The Labour Government says it has already decided in principle to get rid of the £ and is only awaiting the right moment. The question is when, not if.

Strange how that moment never seems to arrive. On the contrary, it appears for now to be moving further away from us. There is a good reason for this. During the last few years, the British economy has been getting not more like the European economy but less like the European economy. There has been divergence, not convergence. This is because we have stuck to our liberal free-trading policies and continued to prosper, even when our European partners have fallen into recession. Their answer has been to impose more rules and regulations, so making their industries less able to recover.

The independence of the £ has made a crucial difference to our performance. When we have troubles we can let the exchange rate take the strain, instead of putting people out of work. As a matter of fact we have seen the opposite trend. A strong economy has made for a strong currency too. Who wants to throw that achievement away for the dubious argument that we will have more political influence if we join the euro? Political influence has not done the Germans much good, with their four million unemployed. It has not done the French much good, with their crises in pensions and social security. We shall follow them into economic decline if we do not keep the £.

The second thing for which we can win Conservative votes at the election in June is a referendum on the proposed European constitution. The December Inter-governmental summit, which was supposed to put the finishing touches to it, in fact broke the whole project wide open. Only the courage of the Spanish and the Poles who refused to let the Germans and French bully them over voting rights, saved us from a done deal. Blair was ready to sign on the dotted line. Unbelievably, when the summit broke up in disarray, a senior German Civil Servant was heard saying to Chancellor Schroeder "Who could imagine the Poles doing this to Germany, after all we have done for them!" However, the new Socialists regime in Madrid has caved in to Franco-German pressure and now Poland has been isolated. I expect they will be bullied into submission shortly, with dire threats of budget cuts. So we can expect the IGC to be re-convened shortly and the signatures of all 25 Prime Ministers appended to the European Constitution.

Tony Blair is prepared to commit Britain to this new Constitution which will, for the first time, enshrine the primacy of EU law. Article 10 of the draft Constitution specifically states that European laws will have constitutional primacy over national law.

The proposed Constitution would even incorporate a Charter of Fundamental Rights, giving every citizen of Europe the constitutional right to strike and to bargain collectively. Frighteningly, it also contains an Energy Chapter, which passes control of energy resources to Brussels. 75% of EU oil is in UK waters, so this would constitute a major coup for the EU, effectively seizing control of our rich oil fields in the same way as they seized our fishing grounds.

But it is on the wider issues that we must get, fight and win a referendum. It is the constitution that proposes the expansion of bureaucracy I mentioned just now, and the new executive posts to wield the expanded bureaucratic power. More of our own laws will be overridden by European rules and regulations. We will have to give up no fewer than 32 vetoes. New rules, regulations and red tape will be extended into areas that have been free of European interference up to now. Parliamentary democracy itself will be in danger. These are attacks on the British way of doing things, which the British people have never asked for, never voted for and do not want. The way to stop all this is a referendum.

There is no better example of what happens when we extend European powers just for the sake of it, into areas where the European bureaucrats have no experience and no competence, than the catastrophe, which has steadily overtaken the British fishing industry. Every day in my job as chairman of the fisheries committee of the European Parliament I see the evidence of this.

More than 30 years ago, when we were negotiating Britain's entry into Europe, the best thing would have been for us keep fishing out of the hands of the European Commission and under our own control. With misplaced confidence in the good faith of our partners, we agreed to let fisheries become a common policy. Not even the most profound pessimist forecast that this would lead to the ruin of fishing communities right round Scotland, often where there is no other means of earning a living.

It would be easy to tear to pieces the many detailed regulations, which have brought this about. But the basic flaw lies deeper. It lies in the method of making policy at several removes from the fishing communities, by bureaucrats who only ever read official documents or scientific reports and never go near a fishing port or a fishing boat or a fisherman. It is the opposite to what Europe calls subsidiarity - of taking decisions as close as possible to those affected by them. Instead we take decisions as far as possible away from those affected by them.

At least the Conservatives have promised that when we next form a government we will repatriate fisheries management to local and national control. We will have nothing more to do with any common policy but will bring back control of the fishing industry to our own Parliaments at Westminster and in Edinburgh, and to politicians who know the needs of fishermen because they represent them. And while we are negotiating our withdrawal from the CFP, it will be the Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland who will represent Scotland's fishermen in the Council of Ministers in Brussels, not some lame-duck, Lib-Lab Scottish Executive minister, with no power, no voice and no vote.

What has happened to the fishing industry is only an extreme example of the European way of doing things, of following not practice but theory. This results in red tape, in rules and regulations aimed at an ideal which nobody in their right minds can seriously expect the people of Europe to fulfil. All they do is make bureaucrats feel more virtuous, especially when they have pandered to the demands of some cranky, self-righteous pressure group.

Or at least, there is only one country, which makes a genuine effort to enforce the rules and regulations passed in Brussels. That country is Britain. The rest ignore them when they feel like it. A fine example is the so-called growth and stability pact, which is supposed to underpin the euro. It ought to be labelled the slump and instability pact, after the problems it has caused in Germany especially. The pact requires members of the euro running high budget deficits to cut them even in times of recession while more is being paid out by way of benefits and less is coming in by way of taxes. When France and Germany found themselves in this bind last year, they decided to ignore the growth and stability pact. In other words, they refused to follow rules which, from the outset of the euro, they had imposed on others.

A report published by the European Commission in January shows that France and Germany each have failed to implement 200 European Directives into their national laws. So the two great nations who always claim to be in the European fast lane, blazing a trail for the rest of us to follow, have blatantly thumbed their noses at the very laws their own politicians have voted for in the Council of Ministers. Meanwhile, predictably, the UK has implemented over 98.5% of all EU directives into British law…..no doubt gold-plated by our ever enthusiastic army of civil servants. Red tape has added £30 billion costs to British business since Labour came to power, £9 billion in the last year alone!

Since I became an MEP the EU has decided how long we are allowed to work, how long we can spend at our lunch-break, how many vitamins we can swallow, how long we can sit on a tractor, what kind of ladders we can climb and now, unbelievably, they are even looking at a regulation to standardise rocking horses and a standardised European yoghurt regulation! No doubt the latter will be some wishy-washy, bland, boring and colourless liquid which no-one will want to buy.

That is why, when the next Conservative government comes in, we shall make a bonfire of European controls and we shall cut away the red tape. We shall argue the case that the British economy flourishes from its lack of regulation, and the European economy would do well to copy us. At any rate, we shall not be bound by rules sure to damage us as they have damaged others before.

The only way to get the kind of Europe we want, a Europe where the people come first and the bureaucrats last, is to stand up for the principle that it has to be a Europe of nation states, not a nation called Europe. It has to be a Europe of independent states, which agree to work together. It must not be a centralised superstate, a European Union where the central bureaucracy can override the rights of the member countries.

Our aim with this will not be to cut ourselves off from our European partners, still less to prepare the way for our possible exit from the Union. Our aim will in fact be precisely the opposite, to change it into a Union which will receive the wholehearted endorsement of the British people, something it has never really had. We want also to make it into a Union which will receive the wholehearted endorsement of the people in all the member countries, some with a very different political experience from our own. The best way to do this is create a dynamic European economy, capable of outdoing the American economy and in future, no doubt, the Chinese economy.

At the moment we can certainly outdo the American and Chinese economies in red tape and bureaucracy. We have to outdo them in the opposite sense, in the sense of pulling down the barriers to trade in the single market to create a prosperous society, which will maintain and create jobs. We want a Europe of enterprise, affluence and open government. That is the way to win the loyalty and commitment to it of the European peoples.

If we stand up for that principle, we shall find there are others who agree with us. The progress towards a superstate has only been prompted by a few bumptious politicians who want to find a place in the history books, together with their willing allies among the bureaucrats in Brussels. But if we look to the people of Europe we shall find our own natural allies who will welcome it if we stand up for that principle. For example, it is by no means clear that the French, with their own long and proud history, want to find themselves submerged in a superstate. Recently the Italians and Spaniards have started supporting us in Europe rather than consenting to be bamboozled by the French and Germans. It is hard to imagine that the ten new member countries, most of which won their freedom from Communism only a few years ago, want to lost it again to another form of supranational oppression in the European Union.

That means we must seek every opportunity to maintain our way of doing things, to defend our freedom and independence. These opportunities are not always easy to recognise. The EU, like Gordon Brown's taxation, advances by stealth, by deals struck behind the scenes in the dead of night, out of sight of the ordinary people of Europe.

When we say this, we cannot be accused of rejecting Europe. Conservatives do not reject the Europe we have played a large part in building over the last 30 years. What we do say is that we can build a better Europe of self-governing nation states based on free trade and co-operation. Tony Blair thinks he can get us to the heart of Europe by bamboozling the British people and hiding from them the true nature of the choices he wants them to make. The Conservatives in this campaign are going to be open and honest about their aims and aspirations, because we want to call forth from the British people a genuine and not a phoney commitment to Europe.

One big opportunity we do have comes every five years when we elect the European Parliament. I said at the beginning that one of the most demanding, but also most frustrating parts of an MEP's job is to put across to the voters that this opportunity is an important one, because Europe already controls more of our lives than most of us imagine. European elections have sometimes been lacklustre affairs for that reason. But that need not be so, and this time it ought not to be so, because the election in June happens to coincide with what may be a real turning point in European affairs. If we miss this chance to make out views known, then a new era is likely to dawn in Europe, which will not be to our liking. It would herald the centralised European superstate, where power will be transferred forever from the people to the bureaucrats and mark the end of our parliamentary democracy.

It can be stopped, though. And it can best be stopped by sending a message from Scotland and from Britain that we reject the integrated superstate model of Europe and will not allow it to be constructed against our will and over our heads. That message will best be carried by the Conservative Party, by a victory of the Conservative party in the European election. Let us work together for that victory, and get every vote possible cast for British freedom and British independence inside a Europe of free and independent nation states."

Keyboard shortcuts

j previous speech k next speech