A new EU agenda

FOR THOSE of us who believe the EU should do less, and do it better, the results of the referenda in France and the Netherlands were simply splendid.

The people of both countries confirmed that their politicians have failed them, are out of touch and have not been listening. The question is: will they listen now? The answer for some would appear to be ‘No’.

In the European Parliament, MEPs from certain political parties are already drawing the wrong conclusions. They are maintaining it is the people who have not been listening. They are claiming the only failure has been that the politicians have not been shouting loudly enough. I suggest they are wrong on both counts.

The Constitution would not just have been bad for Britain; it would have been bad for the people of Europe. It is significant that it was drawn up by a former President of France, Giscard d’Estaing, and an arch advocate of federalism. It is significant that it was deliberately drawn up ahead of the 10 new member states joining the EU – their desire for freedom and flexibility just could not be allowed to contaminate the ‘old European’ text.

It is also significant that, in its preparation, never once did Giscard take a vote among the other politicians supposedly helping him draw up the document: he simply proclaimed grandly, from time to time, that he detected “a consensus had emerged”.

Well, there was no consensus from the people who mattered. The Constitution is dead. Dead, too, is the old concept of the Franco-German alliance being the motor of Europe. This alliance has led Europe into a cul-de-sac of high regulation, high unemployment, and low growth. It is time for a new engine and a new driver.

The opportunity to set Europe on a new path now lies with the UK. From July 1, the UK assumes the rotating six-month presidency of the European Council. It could not come at a more convenient time. The official agenda of the UK presidency pledges to put basic Common Market issues centre stage. It will promote moves to open up the market for services, which account for some 70 per cent of business across the EU. It will echo the call by the new European Commission for less regulation and greater flexibility.

Although I am from a different political party to the Prime Minister, I and my colleagues will be delighted to support such an agenda – if it is for real and not just spin. Tony Blair must also show that he has drawn the right conclusions from the referendum results – and has begun to listen. That means the proposed Constitution must stay dead and must not get implemented by the back door.

Every good wish,

Philip Bushill-Matthews