I am delighted once again to be speaking at the EDU party leaders conference. In fact this is something of an anniversary because this is the twentieth such conference since the EDU was formed in 1978 to bring together European Christian Democrat, Conservative and other like-minded political parties from across our continent to work towards a shared vision of the future. Thank you to the Chairman of the EDU, Deputy Prime Minister, Sauli Niinistö, and the Executive Secretary, Alexis Wintoniak for all their hard work on behalf of the organization.
"At our conference today we have as full new members of the EDU Fidesz-MPP, and the Hungarian Coalition Party of Slovakia. And as permanent observers to the EDU there are the VMRO-DPMNE and the DPA from Macedonia who are proving to be beacons of stability in the Balkans and the United Civil Party of Belarus fighting against the last Stalinist dictatorship in Europe. I know that I speak for everyone in the EDU when I say that you are all very welcome.
"The fact of your presence here today not only underlines the willingness of the EDU as an organization to be outward looking and embrace all the countries of Europe. It also highlights what I believe to be the most pressing priority of the European Union - enlargement. That is, of course, one of the central themes of this conference and indeed this session where we are considering proposals for enlargement based on the work of the group jointly Chaired by Wolfgang Bötsch, and my colleague in the Conservative Shadow Cabinet, Francis Maude.
"As the Declaration before us today makes clear ever since its foundation in 1978, the EDU - with the passionate support of the British Conservative Party - has been an outspoken advocate for enlargement of the European Union. It has been a longstanding ambition. And it remains the top priority for the EDU's European policy.
"So I fully endorse what the Declaration says about an enlarged European Union being in the interests of Europe as a whole - both the current member states and the applicant countries. It holds out the prospect of creating an enlarged area of peace and stability across Europe, spreading prosperity and strengthening our overall security.
"For us, Europe could never end at the Iron Curtain that once divided East and West. We have always believed that a European Union worthy of the name had to include our fellow Europeans who were suffering under the tyrannical shackles of communism.
"Ever since they gained their freedom the Conservative Party, along with other members of the EDU, have been arguing that it is vital that their accession of the applicant states takes place as quickly as possible. Again, as the Declaration states: "We were the first to venture beyond the artificial confines of Western Europe. We embraced fully the ambitions of those who shared our values in Central and Eastern Europe. We have worked together to promote our joint vision of the future".
"Of course we have always recognised that enlargement could not take place overnight and that it would be wrong to move forward prematurely. But that cannot excuse the delays that have taken place and are still thwarting the enlargement process. It is simply unacceptable that we are meeting in Berlin today over a decade after the collapse of Communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall while there is still no clear end in sight for the applicant states.
"The stated aim of the EU is to ensure that the Union is in a position to welcome new members from the end of 2002 "depending on candidate countries' ability to assume the obligations of membership and to successfully complete the negotiations". Yet, there are still a number of doubts as to whether this will actually be achieved.
"As the Polish Prime Minister was reported as saying just after the Nice Meeting, he wanted the EU to be ready to accept the most advanced candidates by the end of next year - but officials in EU are said to scoff at such ideas. Moreover, some of the more difficult and controversial issues, for example agriculture, regional policy, justice and home affairs, are not currently scheduled to be discussed until the second half of this year or the beginning of 2002.
"One of the objectives of the Swedish Presidency is to speed up the pace of negotiations. That has to be right. But I hope also that under the Swedish Presidency the EU can go further and actually propose firm target dates for accession. We cannot allow the process of enlargement to continue to slip.
"We look to our friends in the Moderate Party to keep up the pressure as I am sure they will
"But in setting target dates for accession we must also be clear about the obstacles that need to be overcome. I believe that the reasons for the delay are twofold.
"First, there are the unreasonable demands that continue to be placed on all countries by the EU, requiring them to abide by a rigid straightjacket of legislation especially on social policy.
"Second there is stubborn refusal of the EU to reform itself, the most striking of which is the failure to consider far reaching changes to the Common Agricultural Policy.
"I could not agree more fully with today's Declaration than when it says: "The Common Agricultural Policy shall be reformed in a way which is fair to taxpayers, farmers and customers. The CAP should not be allowed to stand in the way of enlargement, so finding a solution has to be one of the EU's priorities". Today's CAP is indefensible socially, economically, ecologically, environmentally and morally. It needs drastic change.
"In advance of the Nice Summit the Conservative Party put forward positive proposals that would encourage the creation of an outward looking, enlarged European Union.
"For example on the CAP, we believe that there should be greater national responsibility where decisions currently taken at EU level would be better taken by the governments of individual member states.
"And we believe that the time has come to build real flexibility in the European Union. That doesn't just mean the one way flexibility in an ever more integrationist direction, but the kind of flexibility that allows both the existing and applicant states more room for manoeuvre.
"It has become clearer than ever that the kind of rigid "one size fits all" EU that some still cling to, is simply not suited to a dynamic, modern Europe that is ever more diverse and could within the space of a very few years embrace almost thirty nations. Already, for example, with the applicant states there are more than 340 requests for transitional measures in agriculture and over 170 in other areas.
"British Conservatives have set out a better way that meets the challenge of the enlarged Europe. It means allowing EU members to follow a different route in which member states can combine in different combinations for different purposes and to a different extent - what we call a network Europe.
"We want to see a Treaty Flexibility provision so that outside the areas of the single market and core elements of an open, free-trading and competitive EU, countries need only participate in new legislative actions at a European level if they see this as in their national interest.
"These are the issues that should have been at the heart of the negotiations at Nice. But neither reform of the CAP nor real flexibility were even on the agenda. Instead, Nice resulted in a Treaty that takes Europe down the road of ever greater integration. It was in our view a tragically wasted opportunity and, as I have made clear, a Conservative Government would not ratify the Treaty as it stands.
"But nothing could be more disingenuous than the accusation levelled at us that Conservative opposition to Nice somehow implies opposition to enlargement itself. In fact the reverse is true. And it is our belief that the very pursuit of uniform integration that is likely to delay, rather than bring about, the enlargement that we all passionately desire.
"Let me make it clear the Conservative Party is strongly supportive of those measures that genuinely concern enlargement - such as the reform of the Commission and the reweighting of votes in the European Council. As Francis Maude I have stressed, we could agree tomorrow to ratify a Treaty that contained such measures. But what we cannot and will not endorse are measures of closer integration.
"Instead, British Conservatives will continue to pursue an agenda for Europe that promotes co-operation between sovereign states, a Europe that is flexible, a Europe that is outward looking and dynamic, a Europe that embraces the whole of our continent and a Europe that is fit to compete in the global economy of the 21st Century rather than a Europe that is stuck in the mindset of the middle of the last century.