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Kirkhope: Europe must face up to some profound questions

Speech by Timothy Kirkhope MEP, Leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, during the Debate in the European Parliament on the outcome of the European Council on 16/17 June

Mr President, last week's European Council was a clear reminder that the European Union cannot carry on with business as usual following the French and Dutch votes on the Constitution. The decision to pause for reflection on the Constitution merely underlines a lack of direction across Europe. When two founding Member States reject the Constitution with no expectation of holding a second vote, it is hard to see the logic of continuing the ratification process. We would have preferred the Council to have acted decisively, accepted the will of the voters and moved on. Of course there still is a time for a real debate about Europe's future. Like the British Government, we believe that Europe must face up to some profound questions. The move to political integration has reached its high water mark. It is against this backdrop that, with respect, I have to disagree with the President-in-Office when he said that he did not believe the French or the Dutch voters rejected the Constitution.

Such statements damage the relationship between politicians and the people, and if ever there was a time for politicians to demonstrate that they are listening, it is now. It would be folly for Europe's leaders just to ignore the reality of what has happened. This crisis was avoidable: for many years my party has argued for a more flexible Europe. For too long the European integration process has carried on as a project of the political elite. That is now over and we, the representatives of the people, are now charged with conducting further debate on the kind of Europe we want to see.

Those of us who have opposed that integration process have often been criticised, and many in this Chamber believe it is the only way forward, but it is not. In the coming months we will argue positively and enthusiastically for a different kind of Europe that goes with the grain of public opinion and not against it; a Europe that gets away from the obsessions of the past and moves forward with the people's real agenda, which is jobs, growth and prosperity. That is the way to re-engage the electorate with the European Union.

I regret that on this occasion the Council failed to show the necessary leadership.

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