Monday, 5 January 2009

Conservatives and the European Union

It is the Conservative Party’s view that Britain benefits from our membership of the European Union. The EU does much that is worthwhile. The Single Market allows services, workers and goods to move freely across Europe. The tangible benefits such as cheaper telephone calls, air travel and internet access are enjoyed by tens of millions of Britons.

The EU also provides a unique means for us to work together with our European partners on shared challenges which Europe’s nation states by themselves cannot deal with; and with enlargement, the goal of EU membership has persuaded not just governments but whole societies to raise their standards across the board. Britain has an enormous amount to gain through co-operation and free trade in Europe. That is why we want Britain to be a positive participant in the EU, championing liberal values.

I do agree with you, however, that the costs of EU membership are heavier than they should be. There have been improvements – proposed new EU laws are now assessed for their impact on jobs and businesses – but there is still too much red tape coming from Brussels and too much interference in matters that should be decided by Europe’s nation states, not the EU. On issues such as the Working Time Directive the effect on our businesses and public services is potentially serious and damaging. That is why if we win the next general election a Conservative Government will have as a priority the restoration of national control over social and employment legislation.

The EU budget also costs British taxpayers more than it should, not least because this Labour Government signed away £7 billion of Britain’s hard won rebate in return for nothing at all. A Conservative Government would robustly defend Britain’s financial interests in Europe and press for further reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, which accounts for two fifths of the EU budget.

You may also like to know that Britain’s net contribution to the EU budget is £2 billion this year, forecast to rise to £6.5 billion in 2010/11.

We believe in an open, flexible Europe, so we opposed the EU Constitution in principle, and that is why, now substantially the same Treaty has been brought back as the Lisbon Treaty, we oppose that too. So the Conservative Party wins the next general election and the Lisbon Treaty is not yet in force we will put it to a referendum of the British people, recommending a ‘no’ vote, and if it is rejected then the Treaty will be finished. But if the Treaty is in force then in our view political integration in the EU will have gone too far, the Treaty would lack democratic legitimacy in this country and we would not let matters rest there.

We have further pledged that a Conservative government will amend the 1972 European Communities Act so that any new EU Treaty that transfers competences – essentially EU legal language for powers – from the UK to the EU would be subject to a referendum of the British people. This is because we strongly uphold the principle that people should have freedom and control over their own lives, and it should no longer be possible for Governments to hand over power to the EU without the British peoples’ explicit permission.

We are optimistic that with a firm view of our national interests in mind and a clear vision of Europe’s proper priorities – global competitiveness, global poverty and global warming – we can succeed in reforming the EU so that it is fit for the twenty first century. It will not be fast. It will not be easy. But we believe it can be done.

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