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Timothy Kirkhope MEP: We will provide the leadership to reform Europe

Mr Chairman, Conference, I am absolutely delighted to be here today not only as the Leader of the UK Conservative delegation in the European Parliament but, for the first time, as the Deputy Chairman of our new Group: the European Conservatives and Reformists.

I am proud that David Cameron's pledge to build a new strong and influential Group in the European Parliament has been fulfilled. With David's commitment and the support of William Hague and Mark Francois, we have been able to establish a Group which will promote a common vision of Europe.

And this could not have been achieved without your support during the election campaign in June. I and my colleagues are grateful to you for all the work you put into that election; and to our Members of Parliament and our Shadow front bench team for their campaigns throughout the country. As a result, we were once again able to send a strong team back to the European Parliament with the credibility to then reach out to MEPs from other countries to form our new alliance.

Our opponents told us that we would fail, or that we would have no option but to create a weak and marginalised group without power or influence. But now our critics including current Foreign Secretary, David Miliband,- but not for much longer William - have had to resort to personal attacks.

Labour's public tactics betray their private desperation.

The importance of the ECR in the European Parliament was demonstrated in our first big test: the re-election of José Manuel Barroso as President of the EU Commission. At times we have all disagreed with Mr Barroso and doubtless we will again. But we appreciated his staunch defence of free market principles, de-regulation and opposition to protectionism and state intervention. And importantly we also recognised that Mr Barroso has always been steadfast in his commitment to the Atlantic alliance and to a strong partnership with the United States of America.
The influence of the ECR in this matter was pivotal. 

The group that our opponents had said would be a marginal player is already a decisive force in the European Parliament.  We have succeeded in taking control of the crucial Internal Market Committee, where I know my colleague Malcolm Harbour, its new Chairman, will relish taking our Conservative agenda forward in this key area.  Across the board, we also hold more key positions than ever before.

We are the first euro-realist group in the European Parliament - neither blindly in favour of everything done by the European Union nor unthinkingly opposed. We are not against European cooperation where it is useful and in the UK interest.  But we are against big government - at all levels. We are sceptical of yet more government interference and intervention in our lives. 

Of course, Labour believes the solution to every problem is more government. The Liberal Democrats believe the solution to every problem is more Europe.

On the other hand, the ECR believes that individuals, families, communities and voluntary organisations should be supported in tackling the problems we face, but with government action only where necessary. LESS of it not MORE of it.

We want a Europe with a light touch; not the ever more centralised and powerful European Union foreseen in the Lisbon Treaty.

The Conservative Party and our allies in the ECR offer a fresh, modern vision of a reformed European Union: more open, transparent, and democratic; a European Union which delivers value for money.

We will not give up the fight for this vision of Europe.

Despite all the talk we heard from Gordon Brown last week about 'fighting for Britain', we know he is a man who has built a career on avoiding fights.

He wanted to replace Tony Blair earlier but did not dare to challenge him openly; he wanted to be elected Labour leader but didn't dare to face any other candidates in the race; he wanted his own mandate as Prime Minister but didn't dare to call for an early election, and of course he wanted Britain to endorse the Lisbon Treaty but didn't dare to call the referendum he had promised.

It is the ultimate betrayal of the trust of the British people and Gordon Brown cannot be allowed to get away with it.

In Britain, as in Europe, we now need a fresh start - a fresh start that only a General Election can deliver.

The Conservative Members of the European Parliament look forward to working with all of you in returning David Cameron and our Party to power at that General Election. And the European Conservatives and Reformists Group looks forward to working with a Conservative government to realise our vision of a European Union fit for the 21st century.

Once again, if William Hague will forgive me, in the words of William Pitt the Younger, Britain will save herself "by her exertions, and will save Europe by her example".

David Cameron will provide the leadership to achieve this vision - to reform Europe and to rebuild our country.

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