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Evans: The British People want a Referendum on the European Constitution

Speech by Jonathan Evans MEP on the European Council Debate in Strasbourg

Mr President,

We British Conservatives note your words on the need to re-launch the European economy. Competitiveness, Economic Growth and Deregulation. They are welcome words, but also well worn words from past Council statements. The question is whether on this occasion these words will turn to action.

Sadly again it seems that Europe is more interested in rhetoric than the real reform needed to kick-start the Lisbon process. The need for real and far-reaching structural economic reform is pressing. What evidence is there of concrete actions from Member States to implement such reform? The President spoke of his commitment to implementation of the financial services action plan, but the reality is that progress on the Investment Services Directive has been frustrated by Member States under this Presidency. Low growth and unemployment remain critical issues for Europe - matters that can only be addressed fully by the application of determined political will to act over the structural weakness of the European economy.

On the contrary, Europe is yet again more comfortable in pressing ahead with constitutional and institutional reform, rather than taking practical action which will make a real difference to the day to day lives of our constituents.

There was surely a message for all of us from the Swedish referendum vote. Has it been heeded?

The message from Sweden instead appears to have led some Member States to a renewed determination that the voters should not be allowed the chance to express their views on the great European issues.

Of course, in Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Denmark and Ireland, the electorate will have their say on the constitution in a referendum. I was also pleased to note that the French Prime Minister, Monsieur Raffarin, said in his statement last week that in France he believed "it will be necessary to have a referendum to ratify the European Constitution".

That is why we were all confused last week by the attitude of the British Government on the issue of a UK referendum. Indeed, the government seemed in utter disarray on this. Senior civil servants were reported as saying that denying a referendum was untenable. A Junior Foreign Office Minister seemed to keep the door open before Mr Blair firmly slammed it shut.

80% of the British people want a say in a referendum on this constitution and yesterday my Party launched a national petition to Parliament demanding this.

The fundamental changes in the relationship between the Union and the citizens of Europe proposed in the draft Treaty will not have legitimacy without the consent of the people.

There is one other issue that has caused real concern in the UK in recent days; the future of European defence and the transatlantic alliance. Our American allies have expressed genuine concerns about the draft Treaty's proposals on defence. The US Ambassador to NATO has said recently that they constitute " ... the most significant threat to NATO's future." The British Prime Minister says the opposite, he would do nothing to undermine NATO - but this is the PM who assured Britain that the constitution was nothing more than a 'tidying-up exercise'.

France & Belgium continue to want a separate military structure to be created with a new headquarters in Brussels. We see this as a challenge to NATO's supremacy in European defence. I want to put our position clearly and unambiguously. We believe in NATO as the bedrock of European defence, and any initiative which seeks to create a parallel structure within the EU framework undermines that long-standing and proven alliance.

Instead of seeking to create new structures and institutions, we should increase our contribution within the context of the NATO alliance, and we should demonstrate our willingness to work alongside the US in defence of those things which bind us together - freedom, liberal democracy and strong economic and trade relations. We also face the same threats from WMD and terrorism. These threats challenge our common democratic values. We should deal with them in a united, not a divided way.

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