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Nick Bourne: Europe - a vision for the future

Speech to the European Union of Women international commission conference in Cardiff.

"Thank you very much for inviting me to speak to you today.

The concept of Europe - a vision for the future - is an enormous and varied topic. I am sure that many of us here today could debate and discuss the issues for hours, let alone the ten-ish minutes that I have been allocated!

The British public has always had something of a tempestuous relationship with Europe and the European Union.

Of course there are many reasons why this is the case, our so-called 'island mentality' and sheer British pragmatism perhaps just two of them. But being British and a Conservative doesn't mean that I am in anyway to be considered anti-European.

To the contrary I am a committed supporter of Britain's relationship with the European Union and have been from my student days as a founder member of the Young European Democrats at Cambridge.

Britain has an important and central role to play in the European Union of the future, and I believe that this is the right place for us to be.

Let me be clear, however, about what I believe the European Union is, and should, be and what it shouldn't be too.

I do not see the Union as a federal entity or United States of Europe, and nor do I think that we should view this as any sort of 'end-game'.

Ever closer and deeper union, as idealised by some of the most passionate architects of the European treatises, where increasingly more sovereignty is transferred from the nation state to the EU, is not something I agree with.

Instead, I am a strong advocate of a European Union where nations work together through strategic alliance and where it is mutually beneficial to do so.

After all, the co-operation and strategic alliance between the European nation states has brought many benefits, of which peace is the most significant achievement.

Our continued involvement with the EU in the future is essential if we are to adapt to the ever-changing world order and the growth of the new super-powers of China, India - and increasingly as an agricultural power at the WTO, Brazil.

I certainly cannot foresee any situation where we would be better off and might secure better outcomes by leaving the Union.

We would not gain anything by withdrawing and aligning ourselves with those states that remain outside of the Union - Andorra, Switzerland, and Iceland amongst them.

All important countries but our future as a nation is scarcely in forming strategic alliances with Norway, Switzerland and Iceland.

As William Hague has said we should be working together in a way that strengthens our economies, empowers our consumers and turns our common values into effective action on the great issues facing our world today: climate change and global poverty. This is where the European Union's greatest strengths lie.

However, success for the EU in the future to tackle these global issues can only be truly achieved if the mutually beneficial strategic alliance of intergovernmentalism is our focus, and not deeper integration through supranationalism.

The next few years will be decisive in the classic European battle between expansionists and integrationists.

For my part, I believe in a wider Europe, not a deeper one. Of course, the question of how wide Europe should grow remains unanswered.

It was once said that Europe the continent extends geographically as far as the Ural Mountains in Russia, however, I do not imagine for one moment that Russia will seek to join the Union.

In the immediate future we will be discussing the role of Turkey and the implications of Turkish membership, which I support in principle. These negotiations are on going.

I am aware that in the past some northern African states have expressed an interest in joining the Union.

Where will the expansion stop? I'm not sure but there is certainly a natural limit.

But Europe is no stranger to constant change. It is an area that has been in a constant state of flux for centuries as states were formed and dissolved. Italy and Germany are modern constructs, for example.

More recently too, European nation states have undergone huge evolution, with the end of the cold war and the post-cold war fall-out bringing independence to numerous newly acknowledged countries - the states of the former USSR and the former Yugoslavia.

Already these new states have started to become members of the Union - in the 2004 expansion and more recently the joining of Romania and Bulgaria.

Over time, I anticipate that the other former Yugoslavian republics will be accepted into the Union too. This would push the Union to membership of more than 30 states.

As a consequence, Europe has become comfortable with change and will continue to accommodate change in the future.

It is as an international actor that the European Union has the opportunity to carve a future role for itself. As I mentioned earlier, it is by acting through our shared and common values that we can tackle some of the big issues of this generation - issues like:

Climate change

Global poverty

Food, energy and water security

Working together on these issues, and others, as a group of nation states, makes practical as well as financial sense for Britain.

Acting as a body of half a billion people will carry more weight than acting individually, especially when compared to the vast populations of India and China, each with a population of well over 1 billion.

Britain's role in the EU for trade is essential. We are huge beneficiaries from our role in the world's largest trading block - a trading area bigger than the USA and Japan combined.

It is estimated that at the current time some 40% of all world trade takes place within the European Union's single market.

Britain's trading relationship with the EU is also extremely strong and will continue to be in the future.

Some 60% of British trade is dependent on our membership of the EU - and some 3 million jobs.

The EU's role as a trading block will continue to be a powerful trading block in the future - especially in its role in the WTO talks that are on-going.

A profound concern of mine, and my party's, is the perception of the democratic deficit that exists between the institutions of the European Union and the people, nearly 500 million at the last count.

The EU must address the accountability factor if it is to remain effective, especially as the Union continues to grow.

Democratic consent is essential if the Union is to retain the respect of the people. The European Union must not loose sight of democratic accountability.

The Labour Government's failure to hold the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty - or Constitutional Treaty, whatever you wish to call it - merely serves to reinforce the perception of a lack of democratic accountability.

A referendum campaign would have the effect of awakening the British public to the European Union, allow for robust discussion and would, in the result of a vote, provide a democratically accountable decision.

The other institutional issue facing the European Union in the future is bureaucracy.

The Union is creaking under the weight of bureaucracy. Member states are finding it increasingly difficult to implement the many and varied requirements of the Union, and sometimes, the willingness to gold plate a standard and seek a common level across Europe is simply inappropriate.

Two recent examples of this are the regulations on nitrate free zones and fallen stock burial.

The EU of the future urgently requires reform of its institutions and cut out the bureaucracy and deadweight, especially in light of its likely expansion.

It needs to mature into a nimble and much more flexible structure if it is to continue functioning.

But this flexibility will also enable the Union to be free to tackle the big issues facing us all. We will all benefit from this reform.

The future for Europe is a many and varied topic but I believe that Europe has a strong future if it develops more widely, not more deeply and if it provides flexible responses, not bureaucratic ones - these are the keys to future success - a success that I fervently hope for."

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