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Article for Conservatives for Europe

July 19, 2005

The clearest message that I heard in the general election was one of frustration and lack of confidence in politicians.

The clearest message that I heard in the general election was one of frustration and lack of confidence in politicians. People feel less able to control what is important to them, and the big decisions seem to be taken by remote, unaccountable bureaucracies.

The EU has begun to symbolise what people feel is wrong with politics: it is too elite; it is too remote; and it is seen as too self-interested and too corrupt. Over the past decade, the British people have recognised the degree to which Europe meddles in their lives, and they want less interference rather than more.

The current European leadership reminds me of the board of a grand multinational company that has lost contact with its customer base over many years. The crisis prompted by the rejection of the EU constitution is the opportunity to save the company, if the board accepts the need for a new strategy.

Instead of appearing to focus endlessly on its own workings and the allocation of power, the EU must prove its value to a new generation. First it must explicitly ditch the principle of ever-closer political union and focus instead on re-establishing the EU’s credentials as a force for prosperity, growth and jobs.

That means focusing minds on extending the single market, breaking down external tariffs and strengthening the economic ties that will do more to bind us together than any artificial political structure. It also requires a fundamentally different approach to regulation.

The second priority is to prove that the EU can deliver an effective lead on some of the issues that we cannot tackle on our own.

Take climate change, for example. The science has moved on, and there is an urgent need to look beyond the first, very small step that was Kyoto. It is clear that the world is not going to get a lead from the superpower. In this vacuum, the EU has a chance to play a constructive and possibly decisive role in building a coalition of the willing around a post-Kyoto framework. It can certainly take practical steps to put words into action. If, for example, we have to live with the common agricultural policy, is not there a case for using it to incentivise the production of biofuels? A robust EU emissions trading scheme could be, and must be, a template for a global scheme.

In short, it is time for the EU to be seen to be taking a lead on the difficult issues that matter to people. It is time to replace a culture of power grab with one of delivering tangible benefits to people. In truth, real progress will require new leadership, and in the short term only Britain can supply it until a new generation of leaders takes the stage in France and Germany.

While the old regime struggles to respond to the impudence of the French and Dutch people, it is time for Britain to find a bold, positive voice on the EU-one that steers the Community towards better defining its role, setting its limits much more clearly and, above all, proving its relevance and value to the people who pay for it. "