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Kirkhope: Social Europe fails Thatcher test

Speech to the European Convention

Mr President, my argument is against a Social Europe. I am committed to the long-standing position of the Conservative Party-going back to the opt-out John Major negotiated from the Maastricht Treaty-that social issues are simply not a competence for the European Union, let alone a competence that should be extended.

Taking as an example the recommendation in the final report that in order "to add a high level of physical and mental health" the Convention should "strengthen and enlarge EU competences in the field of public health": much as I deplore the current state of the British National Health Service, I do not believe that this is an area where the European Union should intervene.

Perhaps I could make two further observations:

First of all, the suggestion that "solidarity with the developing world" should be a social value of the Union illustrates that warm words like this are no alternative to practical policies. Oxfam, for example, want us to scrap the Common Agricultural Policy's export subsidies regime which is having a devastating impact on farmers in the developing world. They have demonstrated how the EU dairy regime encourages the over-production of milk and dairy products. The surplus is dumped on poor countries, using costly export subsidies, which drive down world prices, create unfair competition and destroy local markets. Why don't we use the powers we have to push harder for free trade? Warm words in a Constitutional Treaty won't feed children in Africa: free trade might.

Secondly, I am worried that the Social Europe agenda will set us down the wrong road: the road to dictatorship. The Laeken Declaration correctly identified that "the Union is behaving too bureaucratically." It went on to say that the peoples of Europe do not want "European institutions inveigling their way into every nook and cranny of life." If we continue to develop the Social Europe agenda, we will be attempting to reconcile the irreconcilable. By forcing Member States to accept one social norm, we will be constraining different, cultures, different traditions and different zeitgeists into a monolithic straitjacket. The peoples of Europe want the freedom to chose their own social norms, and if they lose this freedom they will not call the EU bureaucratic, they will call it dictatorial. In this context, should we not be bold enough to question the continuing need for the ECOSOC, the Economic and Social Committee?

In conclusion, when considering this issue, I apply the 'Thatcher test'. Would Margaret Thatcher have been able to implement her UK economic reforms in the 1980s had these provisions been in place? The answer is 'no'. The report recommends that "The role of the social partners be recognised explicitly in the Constitutional Treaty." This sounds like a return to the tripartite agreements of 1970s corporatism, which did so much to make Britain the sick man of Europe and threatens others now. Therefore, Mr President, I am opposed to these conclusions, the supporting report and the need for these fresh initiatives.

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