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Evans: Growth and Stabiity Pact propsals a pretence of being tough

Speech by Jonathan Evans MEP to the European Parliament in Strasbourg during the debate about the changes to the Growth and Stability Pact

Mr President

I am well aware that I represent a nation that is not a member of the European Monetary Union and I represent a party which is opposed to future membership of the euro. I am not going to apologise for that because I believe the British economy is better off outside the eurozone, and our significantly higher growth rate compared to the average eurozone country bears this out. However, as my party leader, Michael Howard, noted in a recent speech in Berlin, we believe that different combinations of Member States should have the possibility of pooling their responsibilities in different areas of their own choosing. Thus we wish our colleagues in the eurozone well.

I am all for the principle that governments should avoid excessive budget deficits, especially when an economy is growing strongly and unemployment is low. It should have been simple for us to have kept our spending within the limits required of members of the European Union, since all of us - not just members of the euro - are supposed to abide by these guidelines. When Britain exceeded the 3% budget deficit ceiling, it escaped the censure of the Commission because it is not in the eurozone.

The people of other European nations were not so lucky: the Dutch and the Portuguese have had to rein in their public spending in a tight effort to comply with the pact at a time when they have been hit by recession. However, far from being congratulated they were kicked in the teeth by the governments of France and Germany using their muscle to bend the rules and escape the fines which, if imposed, might have given them the incentive to be the team players that they sometimes urge us to be. It is difficult to overstate the damage this has caused. The euro is an ambitious project. All such projects require the injection of a vast amount of political capital. Strong currencies require credible leadership, which is lacking in this case. Ever since the euro was introduced, the very authors of the rules are the least prepared to abide by them.

The new guidelines announced last week pay lip-service to the need for clear and effective rules. They are in essence a surrender to political might. Many have suggested that the eventual success of the euro will be measured in the long run by whether Britain, Sweden and Denmark decide to join. I am not going to look into the crystal ball, but I have to say that the most recent moves by the guardians of the currency have done nothing to encourage those of us who are cautious and wary to sign up.

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