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Evans: Making the right choices in Europe

Speech to the Conservative Spring Forum 2002, Harrogate

Speech to Conservative Spring Forum 2002

This afternoon we are going to discuss the international situation. There is no more important issue. It touches the future, indeed the very survival, of our nation.

War against Terror

Since last autumn, the world scene has darkened. The stakes have risen. The choice between good and evil has become starkly clearer.

The horror of September 11th, the liberation of Afghanistan, the menacing threat from Iraq - these events have brought into sharp focus the challenges we face. Challenges underlined by further terrorist murders this week in Israel, Peru, Spain and Italy.

It is a poisonous cocktail. Ruthlessly organised, fanatically motivated terrorists, keen to inflict mass bloodshed on innocent citizens. Rogue states developing weapons of mass destruction, who regard the West as their enemy, and see these terror networks as useful tools.

Faced with these massive threats, some shy away. Others fumble for excuses.

I believe President Bush is right to fight this war against terrorism. And it is vital that the battle is won.

Dividing Lines in Europe

In the European Parliament - where our team works for Britain, day after day - we are putting the case for united European support of our American allies.

We are arguing for strong defences, for NATO rather than a European army, for taking a stand for what we all know to be right.

Whatever Mr Blair says, his Labour Party in Europe is fighting a very different battle.

In Europe, Labour's priority is not a Europe of nation states backing the America - but the familiar narrow agenda of building continental socialism.

That's why Labour always vote for new burdens on business, for rigid labour markets, for harmonised taxes - and for changes in Europe's rules that would weaken our right to sometimes simply say no.

And the LibDems are no better: in fact, they are even worse. They want a European federation - a United States of Europe - and they want it now.

Crossing the Floor

A couple of weeks ago, something rather unusual and very important happened.

Labour's longest-serving MEP walked away from his party, crossed the floor and joined us. Richard Balfe, London's Labour representative in Europe for 20 years, became our 36th Conservative MEP - the first switch of a serving parliamentarian to the Conservative Party in a quarter of a century.

Why? Because he hadhad enough of the cronyism and control-freakery of New Labour - and was disgusted by the arrogance and deceit of Tony Blair.

And Richard wanted to be part of our Party - an open, tolerant Party - a Party prepared to reflect and to be humble - a Party which wants to have a serious debate about the future of our public services and the big challenges facing the country.

Delivering for Britain

In joining us, Richard has become part of what is increasingly recognised as a powerful cohesive and effective Conservative team. A team united in positively representing Britain's interests in Europe, rather than representing Europe's interests in Britain.

My commitment as European leader is that we will regularly punch above our weight in a parliament where British Conservatives are now the second largest party grouping.

That means identifying what really matters to people and pushing those issues hard.

And we have achieved real success.

Our MEPs have been the champions of British business over new environmental and employment laws.

We have been at the forefront in promoting the consumer's right to cheaper car prices.

We have led the attack on the failure of France to obey the law over the import of British beef, and for the liberalisation of France's energy market.

And on Zimbabwe, my colleague Geoffrey Van Orden has relentlessly led the pressure for EU sanctions against Mugabe.

Earlier this year, against massive resistance from Whitehall and New Labour, the European Parliament set up the first and only public inquiry into last year's foot and mouth disaster.

This was a direct initiative of Robert Sturdy and taken forward with other British colleagues, including Agriculture spokesman Neil Parish. We won the support of every group in Europe for this inquiry, except of course Labour and their Socialist allies.

As a result of our efforts, Nick Brown next week faces his first public questioning about the Government's handling of a scandal which crippled not just British farming, but also thousands of rural businesses.

Turning the Tide

Our mission is to pose the right choices in Europe, and to get the right results for Britain. It is not easy work - especially as Europe's governments have been dominated by socialists for far too long.

Slowly but surely, we are beginning to turn the tide. Last weekend, Portugal threw out the left, and returned our centre-right allies to power. In Italy, in Austria, in Denmark, other socialist governments have already fallen.

Soon, France and Germany will decide whether to stick with socialism or to set the people free.

Across Europe, a new mood is dawning. A new generation is tired of the sterile uniformity of the left. Younger people in Europe like the market, want more freedom, and relish the chance to take control of their own lives.

In Britain too, I think we have reached a turning-point. The gloss is coming off New Labour. The defeat of Tony Blair is no longer unimaginable.

The mood of our conference is clear.

We want to honestly engage with people over the issues that really matter to them. That is the only route to the Conservative Party again fully winning the trust and confidence of Britain.


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