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Timothy Kirkhope: Delivering our change agenda in Europe

Thank you for having me here today.  Our Conservative MEP Delegation has always valued its relationship with the ABI. 

It is very nice to see one of our former and highly-valued employees Greg Weingarten here in his role in your public affairs department.

Defending and promoting British interests has always been a central objective for the Conservative MEP Delegation in the European Parliament and there are few economic sectors where this has been more important in recent years than financial services.  In the coming months, however, it is quite clear that the issues around financial supervision and regulation will be at the top of the European agenda and the subject of some intense parliamentary battles both in Brussels and in national capitals. So this is an extremely timely moment for me to talk to you about our political approach in the new European Parliament.

We have a strong record in promoting the interests of British business and the financial services sector.  John Purvis was a long standing Vice-Chairman of the Parliament's Economic Affairs Committee and Jonathan Evans, who has immense experience of the insurance industry, have made a formidable team in the Parliament for the past decade.  I pay tribute to their work.

Our new delegation will be every bit as skilled and committed. Among our newly elected MEPs, I am proud to say we have Kay Swinburne, who is here with me today, who is a former investment banker with extensive experience in international business and finance, having specialised in cross-border mergers and acquisitions. Another of our new members, Vicky Ford, is a former MD of Bear Sterns and Vice President of JP Morgan.

Kay and Vicky, together with all our returning MEPs will represent your interests vigorously in the European Parliament as part of the delivery on our European Election Manifesto.

I am sure you are all very familiar with the contents of the Manifesto which we published ahead of the recent EU elections. Let me remind you of some of our key commitments:

  • Firstly, we will drive forward the Single Market, work to open new markets, liberalise trade and resist all forms of protectionism
  • Secondly, we will seek to decrease the overall amount of EU regulation and stem the tide of new legislation.  In particular we think it is essential that the next European Commission continues to have a Vice President in charge of Deregulation.
  • And finally, we will keep Britain out of the Euro and work to limit the cost of the EU and get better value for money, starting with clear limits and reductions in the EU Budget.

Our Manifesto also included a specific section on Financial Services, which I think it is worth quoting in full.  We said:

"Thriving and properly functioning financial markets are vital to Britain's   prosperity and wealth creation across the world. We need the right kind of regulation to make sure that financial services never again subject the global economy to dangerous risks, like those the banks and other financial services were allowed to take in the last decade. So Conservative MEPs will be particularly vigilant where new legislation covering financial services is concerned. All new regulations must be subject to proper consultation and research, including monitoring the operation of the markets and products, and be subject to appropriate review mechanisms. We will resist plans for an EU 'super regulator' in any given sector, and instead promote better coordination between national regulators."

That gives you a strong indication of our approach.

Conservative MEPs have now also fulfilled the commitment we gave to the British people to create our own anti-federalist, centre and centre-right mainstream grouping in the European Parliament.  The European Conservatives and Reformists group is the fourth largest Group in the parliament and will consist of a number of parties of government, some of them people who resisted and defeated Communism, and several former finance ministers including Professor Lajos Bokros whose actions were credited with saving the Hungarian economy in the 1990s. Also in our ranks is Dirk Eppink, who was a member of the cabinet of former Commissioner Frits Bolkestein during the time when the Financial Service Action Plan was being steered through the EU's legislative labyrinth.  His expertise will be a vital asset to us in the months ahead.

Our ECR Group has a clear pro-business approach.  All member-parties have signed up to the 'Prague Declaration of Principles'.  The first of these in particular is a commitment to:

"Free enterprise, free and fair trade and competition, minimal regulation, lower taxation, and small government as the ultimate catalysts for individual freedom and personal and national prosperity."

Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe that the new ECR Group will be a powerful vehicle to drive forward our ideals.  I am aware that our political opponents have argued the reverse - that in parting company with the EPP we have diminished our influence in the EU.

But the facts are already proving them wrong and I want to put the record straight.  My experiences in recent days already demonstrate the increased leverage the British Conservative Party will now enjoy in EU decision-making; and to understand why, we need to look at the nature of that decision making.

Too often we see the EU through a Westminster prism, meaning that large groups in Brussels, if allowed to, will dominate in the same manner as the Executive dominates the House of Commons.

The last parliament saw the two major groups - the EPP and the socialists - not only dominating but carving up the parliamentary positions and the work between them. This meant that in order to build a coalition for passing legislation, a compromise was usually needed between those Groups - and we all know that compromise often means that neither side has legislation that is perfect for their beliefs and principles.

That monopoly has now been broken. The Socialist group is smaller. The EPP was the clear winner of the elections although it is still far off a majority. The Liberal group had often enjoyed influence as the swing vote in the parliament but it is already showing signs of internal displacement and a swaying towards their social democrat wing and away from the more traditional liberal wing. ALDE's new leader - Verhofstadt has brought Belgian politics to the European Parliament - something that should reassure nobody!

So we are presented with an unprecedented opportunity for a coalition of the centre-right: the EPP, ECR, and the Liberal wing - if not all - of ALDE.

When we left the EPP, we made it crystal clear to them that we want to maintain an excellent relationship.  We hope this will be reciprocated by the EPP who recognise the need for our groups to work together on issues where we can.

That does not mean we agree with them on everything. On the fundamental issue of European integration we continue to strongly disagree and our new Group will put a powerful case for the EU to return powers to national competence.

However, on matters of the single market, the environment, trade and the burden of regulation, we can do business. And what's more, the EPP must do business with us. Our influence will be used not only to hold back the tide of regulation, but also to reverse the ebb towards further integration.

Nothing illustrates this better than the current discussions over the reappointment of JM Barroso as President of the European Commission.

If you've been following the debate, you'll see that the EPP wanted to reappoint Barroso now. The Socialists have argued against it. It looks like the socialist have been joined by ALDE's leadership and some smaller groups in opposition to a vote being held on Barroso's appointment in Strasbourg next week.

The socialists have not presented an alternative candidate for the Presidency; which many commentators believe is because they are merely holding out for commitments to more social legislation and greater regulation of our financial markets.

In any event, when the event takes place, the EPP does not have enough votes to carry Barroso through on its own. Previously it would have had to give concessions to the socialists in order to secure a victory.

But now there are other Groups and factions who can and should work together. And for the first time ever, we have the opportunity to build a lasting and reliable coalition against socialism and overregulation in the European Parliament.

The EPP, the European Conservatives and Reformists, and the more liberal minded members from the Liberal Group could enable us to put Barroso back in the Commission without giving an inch to the socialists. But such a scenario would not be possible without our votes. Mr Barroso knows it. The EPP knows it. The Liberals know it. And the Socialists know it.

The Commission President has already invited me to take a Delegation of Conservatives to meet with him to discuss these issues - I was accompanied by Kay and Vicky and a number of others and we have begun making our case for reform and change to him.  I can assure you that among the top issues we raised with him were the regulation of hedge funds and private equity, and proposals for future supervision of financial markets.

I am personally well disposed towards Barroso but of course I can assure you that we are not prepared simply to rubber stamp his appointment without conditions.

Earlier this week, I travelled to Stockholm with the Conference of Presidents - on which we will now sit thanks to our new Group. I raised concerns over the directive on Alternative Investment Fund Managers with the Prime Minister of Sweden and new President in Office of the Council of Ministers. I can assure you that the more liberally-minded Swedes are not keen on the proposals either and I believe that - fighting together - we have a real prospect of making them effective and acceptable. Transparency in our financial markets is important, but London must never be placed at a competitive disadvantage to other financial districts.  I noticed over the weekend the Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg, quoted in one of the papers as saying that "no one would be doing Europe a favour if the financial market were to shift from London to New York or anywhere else [as a result of burdensome regulation]".  He is of course quite right.  I share the view expressed in the Economist's Charlemagne column last week, which discussed the Swedish Presidency and noted that because EU decisions on financial regulation can be taken by majority voting, some countries would be happy to outvote Britain and impose rules that would rein in the City of London, but the "Swedes believe that consensus is the best way to take long-term decisions that all can live with".

Ladies and Gentlemen, we intend to work closely with the Swedish Presidency on these issues.  I have held a number of conversations personally with Prime Minister Reinfeld in recent days and I know these issues were also addressed at the meeting he held with David Cameron and William Hague last week in London.

This will be a European Parliament of firsts. This is the first parliament where Euro-socialism could be confined to the history books. It will also see its first euro-realist political Grouping, making the case for the EU to focus on areas where it adds value: climate change, global poverty and economic competitiveness.

This is an extremely exciting time for British and European politics. And with our new Grouping, I am confident that we will be in a far stronger position to deliver for Britain and to fight for the things that matter for Britain in the years ahead.

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