Local view for "http://purl.org/linkedpolitics/eu/plenary/2005-06-23-Speech-4-071"

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". Mr President, I thank you for that excellent discipline you have imposed. In respect of Mr Poettering, I thank him for his kind sentiments and we will do our very best to reach agreement on some of the difficult issues, in particular the financial perspective. He reminded me of John Major’s negotiations in 1992, so I was rather grateful for Mr Schulz reminding us that we defeated both him in the 1997 election and three subsequent leaders, but that is perhaps a point to make in a different forum. On the Constitution, I had not appreciated that you said this yourself, Mr President, but if you said, as was reported in the course of the debate, that it was not the text but the context, then I entirely agree with that. There will be a time when we have to return to the discussion of sensible rules to govern our working as a European Union of 25 – and even larger numbers in the future – rather than 15. The truth is that we need a new framework of rules for Europe and, therefore, the impulse that gave rise to the Constitution was entirely correct. It is, however, necessary to get the political direction firm in order to get the Constitution supported in the way that it should be. Mr Watson challenged me over Council transparency and, certainly in relation to legislating, there is a strong case for that. Let us consider that under our presidency. It is good to see Mr Cohn-Bendit after all these years. A long time ago I used to listen to your speeches, and now you listen to mine. Only history will tell whether this is progress or not! I apologise for not spending more of my speech on the issues of the environment and climate change. I hope that at the G8 summit we will have at least a chance for these issues to dominate the discussion. They will be a major aspect of our European Union presidency. In respect of what Mr Mote said about the rebate, I repeat that we must look at all of this in the round. These issues all need to be resolved together. All I would point out is that without the rebate we would have been contributing about 15 times as much as other similar sized countries over the past 10 years, and even with it, we are contributing more. Without it in existence at all, over the next financial perspective we would be the largest net contributor. I understand your concerns and I repeat that Britain will pay its fair share of enlargement. We support enlargement and will contribute towards it. However, the issue has to be resolved in a way that is satisfactory for everybody and in the context, particularly, of the point about the review that we discussed earlier. I apologise for not dealing with every single individual point. In some contributions there has been a sense that this is just a dispute between leaders based on personality or disagreements between countries. I want to make it clear that, in general terms, I think I have shown over the past eight years that I have always tried to reach consensus at a European level and it is important that we do so. Obviously I have not reached consensus on that statement! The difficulty we have at the moment which I just want to describe to you is: why is it that I feel so passionately about the reform agenda? It is because of a sense of urgency. We do not quite realise in Europe the competitive economic challenge we face today. It is serious and it is urgent! It is strange how things happen but just now everybody has mentioned China, India, etc. in their speeches. Now, however, people understand the seriousness of this situation. It is not simply China and India: take countries like Vietnam or Thailand today. The changes they are making in their economies are amazing and dramatic. The trouble is that in today’s world you have to adapt constantly to that process of change. My worry is that if we do not, two things will happen. First, the very social model and the idea of social solidarity that we, and I, believe in is put at risk. Second, if we cannot handle the challenge of change and if we are unable to adapt to do so, then as a result support comes about for the policies that Mr Farage outlined for the UK Independence Party. I have to tell him that I completely disagree with those policies. I do not want Britain to be in the position of leading a charge against the European Union. That is not my determination at all. The difference between you and me is very simple: you see the problems of the European Union as an opportunity to wreck the European Union, I see them as the necessity for reinvigorating the European Union. There is a big difference between the two. I am well aware, as I have said in my own Parliament and country, this debate for change and reform cannot be led in any other way than from a pro-European perspective. That is something I understand. It is not enough for each person to simply claim Europe for themselves and to say that if you challenge what I am saying, it means somehow you are against Europe. The question, as was rightly put by several speakers in the debate, is not whether Europe should change or whether we believe in Europe, but how Europe should change and what type of Europe we believe in today. That is the issue for us and it is the issue we have to address with a genuine seriousness of purpose. I want to make one other final point. I have said why I support the Constitution. But I will be frank with you. The one thing that worried me during the course of all the debates about the Constitution was this: there is a tendency that I have noticed over my eight years as Prime Minister for Europe sometimes to go back over institutional questions when the questions are really about policy direction. We can debate some of these institutional questions for a very long time. Sometimes you also find it in leaders – and I do not absolve myself of responsibility on this – who, when there is a problem, want to blame a European institution rather than refashion a European policy. It is true that we all have a tendency to do that. My point is that when we decide the direction of Europe – and that is what the coming months have to be about; when we have the debate about how Europe copes with these great challenges, we should always keep our minds focused on the daily concerns of the people we represent. You are the directly elected part of the European institutions. You know how important it is when you go out into your communities to respond to what they talk about. They talk about jobs, security, crime and immigration. They worry about the change in their daily lives. We must have the clear, tough, proper policies to deal with these challenges. If we do, they will respond to us and tell us that they agree it is sensible to have a new European Constitution, because they will then understand the political context in which that constitutional debate is happening. This is a big moment of decision. It would be interesting to see how you would get on in the British House of Commons at Question Time! In conclusion, I would only say that today’s debate in the European Parliament has been excellent. I am honoured to have sat through it, I know there have been many different views and some critical things have been said about me and my presidency. That is part of a healthy democratic debate. I would just suggest to you that if we could replicate this debate in our individual countries and go out and engage with our people and talk to them about what we believe in, why we think Europe is necessary for today’s world, why we want to make the changes necessary to bring it into line with people’s priorities, then in the very act of debate we will help Europe; in the very reaching out to people we will show our relevance; in the very satisfaction of being in a position to answer their concerns, we will reinvigorate the European project. I have found today’s debate immensely impressive. It has been a genuine privilege to sit through it, and I thank you for listening to me. I thank everyone who has contributed to this debate. One thing, for sure, is that I have not been short of advice, for which I thank you. As you may know, some of our colleagues in the gallery today are from Kuwait, and have just passed a law, as was indicated earlier, giving women the vote for the first time. They are an excellent example of how progress and change can happen. It is good to see you here, Sir. In addition, many speakers have asked me to try to achieve a consensus across Europe. It must be said, given the broad range of views, that is going to be quite some challenge. Perhaps the most interesting suggestion was that we made Welsh one of the official languages of the European Union. It could indeed be the way to achieve a consensus, but we shall see. One thing is certain: our debate today has provoked enormous interest not just here in this Parliament but also outside. I will try to respond to some of the specific comments made by the leaders and then make a short summary. In respect of President Barroso, I thank him very much for his kind words. I agree with the agenda he has set out. There is much in common we can work on. The only point I would make on the review clause in respect of the next financial perspective is that it has to be very clear, it must not be ambiguous. Let us work on that together."@en1

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