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Evans: European Council in Thessaloniki

Speech by Jonathan Evans MEP, Leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, on the forthcoming European Council in Thessaloniki

Strasbourg, 4th June 2003

Mr President,

I congratulate you, President-in-Office, on the progress that has been made during the Greek Presidency on progressing enlargement. The special Athens Council in April was a landmark in the history of Europe following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and we look forward to the ten applicant states taking their rightful place in the new Europe.

However, looking at the priorities which were set out by the Presidency, two of them in particular have, sadly, been a disappointment.

First, the Lisbon process. After three years, this agenda is stalled, indeed going backwards. It is disappointing that the Presidency has been unable to persuade Governments to get their act together on an issue that is fundamental to the prosperity of people across the Union. As a result, many EU countries are looking to a future of economic stagnation and deflation.

Second, the Presidency wanted to see "the new Europe as an international motor for peace and co-operation". Of course, the Iraq crisis was a difficult one. However, the way in which, during the Greek Presidency, the 'Gang of Four' convened in April in Brussels to consider alternative defence structures to NATO, merely reinforced anti-American sentiment.

Thessaloniki will also mark the end of the Convention on the Future of Europe, when former President Giscard presents the conclusions of eighteen months of discussion. The Convention still has work to do in the coming two weeks, but I wanted to comment today on the emerging draft Articles published last week.

At Laeken, Heads of State and Government said: "Within the Union, the European institutions must be brought closer to its citizens". Having looked at the draft Articles in this Convention document, I fear that this noble ambition has fallen somewhat short of the mark. Indeed, I would say that, in many ways, it heads in precisely the opposite direction.

The Convention is proposing a European Union that is more centralised, more bureaucratic, in many ways less democratic and certainly more federalist than is currently the case.

I am a long-standing supporter of Britain's membership of the European Union. But, the document that Heads of Government are likely to see in Thessaloniki is one that does, in my view, change the nature of the relationship between Member States and the European Union.

In summary:

A Constitution

Incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights

Legal status for the Union

A President for the EU

A Foreign Minister for the EU

The collapse of the second and third pillars

A Common Foreign and Security Policy

The eventual framing of an EU defence policy

A requirement for economic policies to be co-ordinated

Harmonisation of certain taxes

The establishment of a European Public Prosecutor

The British Government has called the Constitution a "tidying-up exercise", and therefore not worthy of being put to the people in a referendum. In contrast, the Danish Prime Minister is to submit the Constitution to a referendum because: "the EU's constitution is so new and large a document that it would be right to hold a referendum on it". 80% of the British public agrees.

The former Prime Minister of Italy, Lamberto Dini, who also sits in the Convention, has said: "The Constitution is not just an intellectual exercise. It will quickly change people's lives ... ".

This is not just a case of the British Government dismissing the right of the British people to have a say on their own future, it is also that the Convention proposals fundamentally change the relationship between the Union and the Member States and the way in which we are all governed.

For those who have cherished the concept of a United States of Europe, the blueprint has been set out by Giscard, and the debate on the consequences of this draft Constitution should be based on this fundamental fact so honestly and sincerely articulated by President Prodi and many speeches in this debate.

When the Inter-Governmental Conference begins its work later this year, my Party is determined to see that the accession states not only have a right to contribute to the discussion, they must also have a vote in Council on the crucial decisions it will take. The outcome of the IGC will impact on people in Warsaw, Prague and Budapest, just as much as London, Paris and Berlin. It is unacceptable for the EU 15 to impose a radical new Constitution on these new Member States without them having a proper, democratic role in the outcome.

We have long been the most ardent supporters of enlargement and the rights of the accession states to take their place at the European top table. But our Europe is one where diversity is celebrated, not one where countries are forced into an institutional straightjacket. We want a Europe that is democratic, prosperous, works with the United States to defend our freedoms and confront common threats. The Convention takes us down a different route to a Europe where the nation state is no longer the foundation on which the Union rests.

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