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Kirkhope: Spring European Council must take tough decisions

Speech by Timothy Kirkhope MEP, Leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, during the debate in Strasbourg on the forthcoming Spring European Council

Mr President,

The Spring Council will, of course, be dominated by the mid-term review of the Lisbon agenda. This is a matter on which I have spoken on a number of occasions in recent weeks, and one that should be at the heart of the European agenda in the coming years. I wish simply to emphasise once again today the support of my colleagues in the European Democrats for strong action to reinvigorate the agenda. We want to see a stronger commitment by national governments to real and enduring economic reform. The Commission President has our full support for his vision of an enterprising Europe committed to growth and prosperity, and I underline our support for this objective.

I am, however, concerned about some recent developments, including the need for Commission President Barroso not to weaken his stance on EU market liberalisation by in any way undermining the Services Directive. It is a fundamental part of the recently re-crafted Lisbon agenda.

The question of the British opt out from the Working Time Directive has also reared its head again this week. The European Parliament will shortly debate a proposal to end it. It is fundamental to our vision of a prosperous Europe that employers and workers should themselves decide on their own working hours, and not have governments or the EU decide for them. It goes against the whole spirit of economic liberalisation and flexibility that many of us believe there needs to be if Europe is to prosper and compete in the future. Conservative MEPs and an incoming Conservative government in the UK will pledge to work to keep the current blocking minority in the European Council on this matter.

The visit of the President of the United States to Europe last month heralded a new chapter in the world's most important geo-political partnership. There is the real prospect now of a fresh start to a relationship that is so crucial to world security. However, the comments of the German Chancellor in the lead-up to the President's visit need to be taken seriously. He implied that NATO was no longer the pre-eminent vehicle for political dialogue across the Atlantic. I believe he was wrong in that assertion. Of course, relations between the EU and the US on trade and other matters are extremely important, but it is through the tired and tested NATO structures that we must re-build confidence and trust. In particular, the defence and security interests of this continent are inextricably linked to those of the United States. If Europe wants to be a serious partner alongside the US in the fight against terrorism and the spread of WMD, then it must work with our American friends. It must not send mixed signals or duplicate existing machinery. I hope the Spring Council will strongly underline the need for partnership between Europe and America and resist any attempt to establish Europe as a counterweight to the United States.

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