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Bourne: A fair deal for Wales in Europe

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales

"The First Minister's speech was far better when he concentrated on the section prepared by his research unit. The stand-up routine at the end was distinctly funny, but it departed seriously from the truth.

No-one is a stronger supporter of the European Union than me and, indeed, my party.

Labour Members may well laugh, but, in all of our political lives, only two parties have suggested pulling out of Europe—the UK Independence Party and the Labour Party.

At least one of those is not a serious political party, but it may be true of both. Like the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru, we have always believed that Europe is a good thing.

As you will recall, the Macmillan and the Wilson Governments sought membership of the European Union, and the only political leader to ever seriously suggest coming out of it was Michael Foot.

I support a European Union of 25 members and the new members who are waiting to join, namely Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia. I also support Turkey's ultimately joining as a member as that would be good for Europe.

We are looking to a confederation of states. However, being in favour of Europe as a concept does not mean that we have to support everything that comes from Europe.

I disagreed vehemently with the First Minister when he talked about widespread support for the European constitution.

I do not know where he has been but, clearly, there is not widespread support in Britain—you only have to consider the polls and the nervousness of the Prime Minister in calling a referendum.

We are not to have a pre-legislative referendum as we did on the National Assembly for Wales, and we know why: it is because if he is still in power—and that is a big 'if'—the Prime Minister wants the referendum to take place on the other side of the general election, for reasons that are all too clear.

I heard the First Minister on the radio on Friday. There is doubt about whether we would have this referendum if other states vote 'no'.

If the gallant Estonia says 'no' to the European constitution, Jack Straw has said that all sorts of things are possible, indicating that we may have a referendum and we may not.

The Prime Minister had previously said that we would. When pressed on the radio on the question of whether we would have a referendum, the First Minister said—paraphrasing Sam Goldwyn of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer—that the answer is a 'definite maybe'. Perhaps he would clarify that when he speaks later, as there is doubt on it.

Whatever your views on the constitution, it has massive implications, and it is only because of Conservative Party pressure that the Prime Minister conceded a referendum.

An EU with a new president, a foreign minister, a diplomatic service and an EU that turns the European Court of Justice into a kind of Supreme Court and which deals with the areas of criminal justice, asylum, immigration, energy, trade, social security and civil rights would have much greater influence, and it takes integration too far.

That point of view will be put in the debate on the European constitution, and it will be settled by the people.

On the Welsh profile, we believe that the omission of Wales from the Eurostat map was, in many ways, symbolic. We have not made the impact there that we could have made.

As the First Minister said, he spoke at the cohesion forum, but all opposition leaders felt—and he will know this—that he did not put a powerful case for Wales and for Welsh regional funding. We had a classic opportunity there, but it was not seized.

I hope that we make use of the European Union presidency in Wales. The youth parliament and youth involvement idea is a good one, but we also need to use this as a platform to ensure that we get a fair deal from regional funding.

I welcome the First Minister's response on what we will do to ensure that we signal that clearly in the UK presidency, as this issue will probably still be on the back burner when we have that UK presidency.

On structural funds and EU regional policy, I did not recognise the description of the success of Objective 1. It has been bureaucratic, slow and often chaotic.

The gap in gross domestic product per head has widened from 80.2 per cent to 78.8 per cent. Those are official figures. There is disparity between east and west Wales in terms of employment rates, inactivity rates and average earnings. Job creation has taken place at a greater rate outside the Objective 1 region.

Therefore, there are clear warnings that there has not been effective engagement with the private sector. The process has been too bureaucratic, and we have not learned from the experience of Ireland and Finland. Those are the serious reservations that we have, hence our amendments."

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