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Kirkhope: Presidency must drive economic reform

Speech by Timothy Kirkhope MEP, Leader of the Conservatives of the European Parliament, during the debate on the Luxembourg Presidency in Strasbourg

Mr President, Mr Prime Minister,

Can I begin by wishing you and your country a successful presidency in the coming six months. You assume the leadership of the Union at a crucial period. The ratification process for the Constitution is now underway, the Lisbon process is in deep trouble and the future of transatlantic relations remains a source of great concern.

In March, the European Council will carry out the mid-term review of the Lisbon process. It will do against the backdrop of the Kok Report which was blunt in its assessment of the lack of progress with the process. I urge the presidency not to be distracted by the siren calls of those who urge that the preservation of the so-called 'European model' is the most important political priority. It is not. It is precisely because so many governments have failed to grasp the nettle on radical reform that the Lisbon process is in such dire straits. The United States continues to out-perform us and the competitive challenges from Asia, particularly China and India, are increasing with no apparent urgent response from national capitals in the Union.

The presidency must be unequivocal in its support for economic reform, for greater labour market flexibility, for more competitive taxation policies and reducing barriers to employment growth, particularly the excessive regulation that pervades our economies.

I know that the presidency cannot compel the Member States to embark on the necessary structural reforms necessary for economic growth and competitiveness, but together with the Commission, it can foster a climate in Europe that promotes and celebrates entrepreneurship, more flexible labour markets and less red tape. Mr Barroso has spoken eloquently of his determination to re-focus Europe's economic priorities. We support him in his declared ambition of modernising the European economy to meet the challenges of fierce competition from other regions of the world. We will watch carefully how this strategy develops and wish him well in any deregulatory initiatives he and the Commission take. However, after years of grandiose gestures and high-flown rhetoric, we expect the Commission and the European Council to produce an economic route map for the next five years that is bold and reforming.

With high unemployment a factor across Europe, the people are waiting for practical ways to get them back to work. Reform will be difficult, fraught with political risk. But, as the United Kingdom under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and Spain under Sr. Aznar in the 1990s proved, a resolute approach to economic reform delivers results. Low taxation, flexible labour markets, less red tape and a determination to tip the balance firmly in favour of the wealth creators offers the only way out of relative economic decline. These things are anathema to Socialists, but good for all of us.

We look to the Spring Council in March to reverse the failures of recent times, and put Europe firmly on a free market and enterprise-driven path.

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