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Kirkhope: The Future of Europe

Speech by Timothy Kirkhope MEP, Leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliamen, to the European Parliament in Strasbourg

Mr President, Commissioner,

The Commission's statement last week entitled "A Citizen's Agenda - Delivering Results for Europe" is timed to generate debate in the lead-up to the Council meeting in June. I should begin by saying that I welcome the emphasis Mr Barroso has placed on policy delivery rather than on institutional grand designs, even if I do not agree with all the proposed solutions. In particular, I welcome his personal commitment to a comprehensive review of the Single Market. I hope that this review will be heavily accentuated towards the opening of markets, liberalisation and tearing down the economic barriers that still exist in Europe. I know he is personally committed, as I am, to economic reform and liberalisation as the only sure way of ensuring growth and greater prosperity.

I do not welcome, however, the proposed agenda in the field of Justice and Home Affairs. It is true that people in Europe want to see greater co-operation between Member States to combat and defeat the threats we all face in the modern world, particularly terrorism. I want to see more inter-governmental co-ordination in tackling crime and terrorism, but I am wholly opposed to such issues subject to qualified majority voting. They are matters that go to the very heart of the nation state and its responsibilities to its citizens. The national veto must remain in these areas and I warn the British Government that they are playing with fire if they march further down this road.

In June, the Heads of Government will take stock on the Constitution. I hope they will make clear two things. First, the Constitution died when the French and Dutch people rejected it only a year ago. Second, there must be no attempt to implement any provisions of the Constitution by the back door - what I call 'cherry picking'. There is evidence to suggest that this is something that some governments wish to pursue. If such a course is attempted, it will undermine even further the credibility and standing of the European Union in the eyes of the people. In particular, it would be insulting to the peoples of France and the Netherlands who have already delivered their democratic verdict. Indeed, the Dutch Foreign Minister has already said that the Constitution is "dead". His words should be heeded.

I urge the Commission to concentrate on delivering on its economic reform agenda. That is what people expect from the EU. People in Europe want action on growth and jobs now. There is no appetite for endless debate on constitutional and institutional structures. They don't want grand institutional projects that further erode the sovereignty of their nations.

My message to Heads of Government as they prepare for the June Summit is simple. They should focus on the people's priorities, particularly the plight of the 18 million inside the Union who have no job. There is nothing for them in a European Constitution that was created for and by Europe's political classes. Europe needs to demonstrate clearly and unambiguously that it has learned some lessons from the 'NO' votes. It needs to show that it is ready to move on to an ambitious reform programme that tackles low growth, high unemployment and threats to our environment. The social model needs to be reformed drastically. How can one speak of a 'social model' that consigns so many to the misery of joblessness?

My opposition to the Constitution is not based on dogma. Certainly, I am against the concept and its provisions. I believe it would be bad for Europe and bad for the peoples of Europe. A year ago, the peoples of France and the Netherlands agreed with that view. The time has now come for the governments of Europe to wake up to the new reality. Europe needs reform. It needs to be more accountable, more transparent and, above all, it needs to reform its priorities. As we move towards an EU of 27, let us celebrate the diversity of the modern European Union. Let us harness that diversity to work together for a true Europe of Nation States.

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