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Kirkhope:speech to the new President of the European Council

Mr President, President-in-Office,

On behalf of the European Democrats in the EPP-ED Group, can I welcome you and wish you well. You assume the Presidency of the EU at an important time, following the wasted opportunities that so characterised the British Presidency.

I sincerely hope that the economic reform agenda is taken forward with some urgency. It stalled under the last presidency and I urge you not to be deflected from pursuing the case for reform. I am concerned, however, that you may be considering unhelpful changes to the Services Directive and that you aim to develop plans aimed at co-ordinating social security systems. I hope very much that you will not damage the prospects of economic progress by such measures.

I also ask you not to change the Working Time Directive 'opt out' that Britain believes is fundamental to our economic well being.

I warmly welcome your recent call for a serious discussion on the role of the European Court of Justice. This is an extremely important debate because as you have said, the Court has "systematically extended European competences into areas where there was decidedly no European law". It is also an extremely timely debate in view of recent ECJ rulings in relation to taxation and criminal law. These rulings have extended EU competence into the most sensitive areas of national sovereignty, areas where there is clearly no consensus for any kind of move to Europeanisation of decision-making. I am greatly concerned about these recent decisions and, like you, would like to see the ECJ rigorously apply the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.

On the European Constitution, you have made a number of comments on the issue in recent weeks. I want to be clear that I believe it would not be sensible to have the Constitution project resurrected. The remarks of the Dutch Foreign Minister cannot be ignored. He said: "We have discussed the Constitution, which for the Netherlands is dead". When a senior politician of a founding member state declares the project is dead, Europe's leaders should take note and act accordingly.

I do not dispute that some progress needs to be made on making the EU more transparent and accountable to the people. This does not require a rigid constitutional text with more powers centralised in Brussels.

The citizens of Europe don't want a more centralised Europe. At Laeken at the beginning of the Convention process, the Leaders stated that they wanted to re-connect the EU and its institutions with the people. Well, the Constitution failed to do any such thing. The people want a Europe that deals with jobs, economic growth, the environment and co-operation in fighting crime and terrorism. Let's break out of the tired debate on institutions and constitutions and let's demonstrate where the EU can add value to people's quality of life and living standards.

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