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Kirkhope: British Presidency is an opportunity for Britain to give leadership to Europe

Speech by Timothy Kirkhope MEP, Leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament,to the European Parliament in Brussels during the Debate on the British Presidency

Mr President,

On behalf of the Conservative delegation and my European Democrat colleagues, can I welcome the Prime Minister and say that we hope the British Presidency will be a truly reforming one. It is important for our country and our national interest that Britain gives leadership to Europe at a time when fundamental questions on its future are being asked. But it has to be the right kind of leadership and the right kind of future.

The events of recent weeks have been a wake up call for politicians across the European Union. The fact that the people of France and the Netherlands, two founding states, voted emphatically against the Constitution is of profound significance. I regret that the European Council did not respond decisively to these votes by declaring the Constitution "dead". Mr Blair has said that there needs to be a real debate on the kind of European Union we want in the future. I agree, and we look to him to lead that debate in the coming months. We hope that he will show his leadership by explaining exactly what he meant by his comments the other day that there is more than one view on Europe's future.

Earlier this week, Mr Blair said: "The crisis is about the failure of leaders to reach agreement with the people who see the world changing and want answers to the challenges they face". British Conservatives, who are the largest British delegation in the European Parliament, have been saying this for years about the European Union and, if he is now rather belatedly accepting our positions, I welcome his conversion as we have led the way in the process of liberating our economies, deregulation, the Lisbon strategy, and accountability and reform of the budget.

But this is not just a crisis of leadership as Mr Blair says but also a crisis of legitimacy with the European institutions.

Fine words from the British Government are all very well, but we now need action. The 'social model' has failed Europe. Millions of unemployed, with low growth and inflexible labour markets personify economic decline in Europe. The longer Europe brushes this reality aside, the Lisbon Agenda remains nothing but an aspiration. We will watch for real signs of progress on this issue during the British Presidency.

I turn finally to the future financing of the European Union. The Prime Minister was right to defend the British abatement. There is a reason for this rebate existing, as strong now as it was in 1984

when it was first negotiated by a Conservative Government. The apparent slippage in the Government's position on the rebate is of concern to us, and we will watch carefully in the coming months to ensure that British taxpayers do not become pawns in discussions over the future of the budget.

In conclusion, I would urge the Prime Minister not to be deflected from his stated goals of reform in the European Union. We want his rhetoric of recent days to be matched by real leadership and real action. We hope he can deliver and when we judge him in December we hope he will not have failed us.

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