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Kirkhope: EU Constitution is wrong for Europe

Speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg

"The Laeken Declaration of 2001 rightly called for the EU institutions to develop in a way that brought them closer to the people. As the ratification process on the EU Constitution gathers pace, it is sadly clear that those ambitions have not been realised.

As a member of the Constitutional Convention, I made great efforts to try to persuade colleagues that the emerging draft Constitution was wrong for Europe in principle and wrong for Europe's citizens. Throughout, I argued that although Europe did not need a constitution, a simplifying Treaty would have been enough to modernise and simplify the institutions and workings of the Union. I even submitted a draft of a possible Alternative Constitution. Prime Minister Blair then seemed to agree with me. Now, he embraces the Constitution as drawn and faces an ignominious defeat when the British people vote on the matter.

There is nothing anti-European in opposing this Constitution. British Conservatives and other colleagues in the European Democrats are clear that it centralises more powers, makes the institutions more remote, reduces the powers of nation states and leads us inexorably to a European state. My Party Leader has said: countries have constitutions and we do not wish to see a country called Europe. I agree.

But, Europe has missed an historic opportunity to modernise it's workings to meet the demands of an enlarged and more diverse Union. A simplifying Treaty could have tackled the real issues facing us: relative economic decline, fraud and waste and greater involvement of national parliaments in the decision-making processes.

Europe must develop as an equal partnership of nation states. When the British people and perhaps others reject this Constitution, they will not be rejecting membership of the Union. They will be signalling very clearly their opposition to any European integration process.

Romano Prodi and Javier Solana have both proffered thinly-veiled warnings about the consequences of the British people voting 'no' in the referendum. Last year, Mr Prodi warned of "heavy consequences". This kind of hostile rhetoric will cut no ice with the voters either in the UK or elsewhere. Should the UK vote no, it remains a member of the Union, and nothing Sr. Prodi says or Mr Blair threatens can change that fact. It may well be that a number of countries will say 'no'. And, let me make it clear today that there can be no question of those countries who may vote 'yes' proceeding to implement this Constitution if even one country says 'no'. Nor can those voting 'no' be made to hold further referendums.

At a time when the generosity of people across Europe and the world towards the victims of the Tsunami disaster is evident to all, I find it inexplicable why this parliament is, according to press reports, committing thousands of euros to a programme of events and receptions in support of the European Constitution. Can I suggest that these funds would be better and more productively spent on support for the disaster relief appeal. European citizens might have a little more respect for this institution if such a course of action were to be followed.

Of course, the Constitution is of such far-reaching significance that its rejection in one or more of the Member States will render it null and void, both politically and morally. Should this be the outcome of the ratification process, Europe will then have a fresh opportunity to establish a modern Union that respects and celebrates its diversity, rather than one which demands conformity."

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