Convention: the Labour view

By RICHARD HOWITT MEPLabourIN nine years as a Euro MP, firstly for Essex and now for Suffolk as well, I rarely find people are against Europe but rather have no real idea what's going on.



IN nine years as a Euro MP, firstly for Essex and now for Suffolk as well, I rarely find people are against Europe but rather have no real idea what's going on.

So I personally backed a European Convention, which aimed to rewrite the EU's rules to make them more open and understandable, and to do so by involving all interests: politicians and non-politicians, even pro- and anti-Europeans.

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And Europe's draft constitution is precisely that: a simplification of what is already there, more devolution of powers from Brussels, and better operation of competencies already shared. 

Forget the scare stories about a superstate.

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There is no question of sacrificing the British veto on such matters as tax, social security or constitutional change itself.  There will be no single European army or foreign policy.

Where we support more majority voting, we should remember French intransigence over the beef ban or Eurotunnel.  A veto isn't always a good thing – in particular, when 10 new countries, mostly from Eastern Europe are about to join. Business could grind to a halt. 

But still the Conservatives repeat the lie that this will be the end of Britain as an independent country.  Rubbish.

The Convention's President has made clear that Europe must remain a union of independent states.  European governments charged the Convention to prevent the EU intervening in unnecessary detail.  The President of Europe's civil service, the Commission,- said it was ready to give up some of its powers.  The European Parliament itself supports increased influence by our national MP colleagues in the EU's work.

But you wouldn't know any of this by reading the frenzied, eurosceptic rantings of the Daily Mail or The Sun.  Thank God the East Anglian Daily Times is prepared to air all sides of the argument.

 It really is a question of quiet efficiency, such as who chairs meetings, how appointments are shared, rather than high politics. 

For Conservatives to call for a referendum is an outrageous double standard when their Government denied one for the EU Maastricht Treaty.

And it stinks of hypocrisy for our Tory MEPs to join the call, when they personally spoke out against local consultation on the Convention, denying the all-party support necessary at the East of England's Europe Panel.

The real Tory agenda is to discredit Europe not improve it - as part of a long game which would see British withdrawal altogether.

Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats are equally wrong in seeking to portray the Treaty as a major step towards their eurofederalist agenda.

I am sorry not to inflame the passions of eurosceptics or europhiles.  But I suspect a majority of my constituents are far happier with the reality, which is a set of practical reforms of European decision-making to make what already exists work better.


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