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Kirkhope: Economic reform at the start of Finnish Presidency is as urgent as ever

Speech by Timothy Kirkhope MEP, Leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, to the European Parliament in Strasbourg in the Debate on the Finnish Presidency

President, President-in-Office,

The new Presidency wants to develop a transparent and effective Union. The issues of transparency and openness are ones British Conservatives have been championing for many years. The opening of Council meetings is a step in the right direction and has been taken despite the crass attempts by the new British Foreign Secretary to preserve secrecy. We will watch carefully to see that the letter and spirit of openness is upheld in the coming months. Equally, the Presidency's wish to scrutinise the effects of legislation and improving its clarity is something I welcome. But British Conservatives have long argued for proper assessments on whether some legislation is actually required at all. The initial presumption must always be, in my view, against legislating. There shall also be proper impact assessments undertaken before embarking on new laws. I hope that the Presidency will make progress in creating a new culture in the EU which lays emphasis on less legislation and less regulation. This is an essential part of the reform agenda that I want Europe to develop.

The Presidency also wants to see more effective decision-making in judicial co-operation in criminal matters. I hope the emphasis here will be on better inter-governmental co-operation and not harmonisation. The announcement by Commissioner Frattini last week that he will urge Member States to make use of the passerelle clauses to move to qualified majority voting in the third pillar is unwelcome news. People do want governments to work together more effectively to prevent terrorism, combat human trafficking and fight the scourge of drugs. I do too. But this does not require the ending of the veto in these areas. Harmonisation is a flawed approach. It denies the police and security services the flexibility and adaptability they need to stay one step ahead of the terrorists and the drug traffickers. Giving Parliament and the Court of Justice 'second guess' powers will hamper and undermine the work of law enforcement agencies across Europe.

I am strongly against any proposal that would see national parliaments ceding power over drugs policy, the Serious Fraud Office in the UK ceding power over anti-corruption investigations to Europol and the police ceding powers over criminal investigations to Eurojust and the Court of Justice. These are matters that go to the heart of the powers of the nation state. People elect governments to protect them from internal and external threats to security. If governments give away these powers and deny themselves the flexibility they need to contain threats to security, all in the name of European integration, people will rightly judge this as simply another attempt by Brussels to intervene in their domestic affairs. The case for harmonisation has not been made and the evidence that qualified majority voting will make us safer and more secure is not there. So, I urge the Presidency not to pursue this course.

I hope the Presidency will work closely with President Barroso on the economic reform agenda. There is no room for complacency here. The drive to make Europe more competitive does not begin and end with Summit conclusions. The need for reform is as urgent as ever and I hope the Presidency will champion the kind of liberalising, reformist economic agenda that I have long urged. The protectionists and those who champion the outdated concept of national champions are still with us - I hope the Prime Minister and his Presidency will resist them.

I also want the Presidency to sort out the vexed question of the seat of the European Parliament. We have been in the forefront of the campaign to end the Strasbourg sessions. Having two seats is expensive, wasteful and a major burden on taxpayers. Over half a million people have already signed the petition to end Strasbourg, including myself and my British Conservative colleagues. We must have some action on the matter.

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