Speech by Timothy Kirkhope MEP, Leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, during the Debate in Strasbourg on Preparation of the European Council
The meeting of the European Council later this week is of historic significance, primarily because of the fundamental issue of the opening of negotiations with Turkey on future membership of the EU. There are very strongly held views on this issue across this Parliament and beyond. I acknowledge that. However, the policy of my party is clear: we believe that in the right circumstances Turkish membership of the Union could be good for Europe, good for Turkey and good for relations with the Islamic world and security in our societies.
I accept that the negotiations with Turkey are likely to be lengthy and at times difficult, but this week the Council should take a first step in that process. Like any other applicant country, Turkey must satisfy all the criteria required in terms of human rights and economic and political reform. This might be very difficult, but by agreeing to the formal opening of negotiations the Council will send a clear message to the Turkish Government that we expect it to work assiduously to achieve the steps necessary for eventual membership.
The issue of Bulgarian and Romanian membership of the Union will also feature on the agenda and the objective there must be to affirm the accession of both countries whilst recognising that a great amount of work remains to be done - in particular in the case of Romania - to ensure they remain on track.
The issue of economic reform in the Union was discussed at the last Council in November. However, I hope that the Netherlands presidency and the heads of government will reaffirm their commitment to kick-starting the Lisbon agenda.
Earlier this week the Socialist Group expressed concern at the neo-liberal nature of the new Commission. I want to make it clear that we expect Mr Barroso and his team to be true to their earlier statements on the need to reinvigorate the economy in Europe and the crack-down on red tape and regulation. The outdated social model so beloved of the left is to be replaced with a vigorous, dynamic and radical reform programme. This is the only way to deal with the high unemployment and sluggish growth that has led to Europe lagging behind the United States and the burgeoning economies of China and India. If the Commission acts in this way, it will get the full support of British Conservatives.