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Evans: Reaction to Thessaloniki European Council

Speech by Jonathan Evans MEP, Leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 1st July 2003

Mr President,

The Athens Accession Treaty signed on 16 April was an historic landmark in the history of Europe. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, my Party has been consistent and has determined its support for the enlargement of the Union, and we unreservedly welcome the positive results of the referenda that have already taken place in many of the accession states.

However, we are less supportive of the Presidency in other respects. On Iraq, the damage to transatlantic relations arising from the 'gang of four' summit attended by Germany, France, Belgium and Luxembourg also severely undermined NATO. And at a time when many of our citizens in Europe face economic stagnation and deflation, there has been little progress in advancing the Lisbon agenda of economic structural reform.

Instead, we have seen that again we prefer to devote our time to institutional reform, while persuading ourselves that this is the sort of progress European citizens are crying out for. I doubt it.

The Presidency Conclusions begin by saying that the Convention was successful in:

"Bringing our Union closer to its citizens"

"Strengthening our Union's democratic character"

"Enhancing our Union's ability to act as a coherent and unified force in the international system ... ".

I fear that such warm optimistic rhetoric is little more than that. The results of the Convention's work have again shown the inability of a European political elite to reflect the real concerns of the peoples of Europe. We are asked to believe that what our citizens really want is an EU with legal personality, a legally binding Charter of Fundamental Rights, the removal of the pillar structure, an extension of majority voting, an EU President and Foreign Minister, Common Asylum and Immigration policies and a European Public Prosecutor. In short, that people want a fundamental change in the relationship between the Union and its people.

The British Prime Minister's now infamous view that the Convention was merely a "tidying-up exercise" has attracted derision from Euro-sceptics and Europhiles alike. I repeat today that the people of the United Kingdom have a right to a referendum on this Constitutional Treaty, just as other Member States intend to do. If the governments of the Union wish to bring their citizens closer to the Union, then it is in their interests, and those of their people, for referenda to be held to legitimise what is being proposed in their name.

My Party believes in a different kind of Europe, where the nation state is the fundamental building block of co-operation and intergovernmentalism is preferable to the one-way integration which the Convention has merely reinforced. It is a different kind of Europe to the integrationist agenda, but no less European. I wish the Convention had chosen this route, and hope that the governments of the Union look afresh at the results of the Convention when the Intergovernmental Conference begins its work in October.

I was also interested to see in the Presidency Conclusions that "The acceding states will participate in the Inter-Governmental Conference on an equal footing with the current Member States". Does this enable them to vote on the outcome of the IGC like all other Member States? I see no commitment from the European Council on this point. These states should not only be part of the IGC process; they must have a vote when the decisions are being taken. It would be outrageous for the IGC to conclude a new constitutional structure for Europe, just weeks in advance of accession and try to present this as a done deal to the accession countries. No democrat should put up with that.

Finally, I welcome the statements of intent with regard to the ongoing negotiations with Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey. The negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania should be continued apace, with a view to their joining the Union in 2007. On Turkey, while we accept there is more work to be done with the Turkish Government, the underlying commitment of the Union to Turkey, as expressed at the Copenhagen Council last December, should be upheld and adhered to.

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