Richard North, 11/04/2005  

Issued this morning, the manifesto is a relatively modest document, heavy on graphics and thin on content.

As regard policy on the European Union, the offering is as follows:

Conservatives support the cause of reform in Europe and we will co-operate with all those who wish to see the EU evolve in a more flexible, liberal and decentralised direction.

We oppose the EU Constitution and would give the British people the chance to reject its provisions in a referendum within six months of the General Election. We also oppose giving up the valuable freedom which control of our own currency gives us. We will not join the Euro.

In a reformed Europe, the restrictive employment laws of the Social Chapter will have to give way to more flexible working. We will ensure that Britain once again leads the fight for a deregulated Europe by negotiating the restoration of our opt-out from the Social Chapter.

The common policies on agriculture and fisheries are unsustainable, damaging to free trade and conservation, and waste huge sums of money. The CAP needs further and deeper reform. And, because fisheries would be better administered at the national level, we will negotiate to restore national and local control over British fishing grounds. We are determined to ensure national control in this area.

We will also build on the success of enlargement, making Europe more diverse by working to bring in more nations, including Turkey.

We value Britain’s membership of the European Union, but our horizons extend much further. A key element of British foreign policy under a Conservative Government will be fighting world poverty. We will support further action on debt relief and will work to meet the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent of national income on overseas aid by 2013. We believe that British aid programmes are among the best in the world, so we will negotiate to increase British national control over our international aid spending.

Above all, we recognise that there is a vital thread that links open markets, free trade, property rights, the rule of law, democracy, economic development and social progress. We will use our global influence to champion these principles in the interests of the developing world.
There are no surprises here and anyone expecting a more robust line will be disappointed. However, the essential feature is total opposition to the EU constitution and a commitment to a referendum within six months of a general election.

At least, however, the Conservatives have got rid of the fatuous slogan which they ran during the 2001 election: "In Europe, not run by Europe". Then, they declared that the guiding principle of Conservative policy towards the European Union was “to be in Europe, but not run by Europe.”

The Conservatives committed themselves to "lead a debate in Europe about its future, promoting our own clear and positive vision." The 2001 manifesto continued:

The European Union has, with the prospect of enlargement, reached a fork in the road. Down one route lies a fully integrated superstate with nation states and the national veto disappearing. The Government is taking us down this route.

The alternative is a Europe of nations coming together in different combinations for different purposes and to differing extents. In other words, a network Europe. If Britain leads the debate, we can make this alternative a reality.

We will insist on a Treaty 'flexibility' provision, so that outside the areas of the single market and core elements of an open, free-trading and competitive EU, countries need only participate in new legislative actions at a European level if they see this as in their national interest.

At the same time, we are willing to support the principle of 'reinforced co-operation' in Europe, under which small groups of countries can become more closely integrated if they wish to do so, providing it does not damage Britain's national interest.

The next Conservative Government will keep the pound. We will maintain our national veto on European legislation. Giving up either would put our ability to govern ourselves at risk. We will not ratify the Nice Treaty but will renegotiate it so that Britain does not lose its veto.

We also propose to amend our domestic law to include “reserved powers”. This will prevent EU law from overriding the will of Parliament in areas which Parliament never intended to transfer to the EU.

This policy will be reinforced with a determination to veto further transfers of power from Westminster to Brussels. Should any future Government wish to surrender any more of Parliament's rights and power to Brussels they should be required to secure approval for such a transfer in a referendum.

We intend to press for the single market to be completed and for competition laws to be stronger so that British businesses which play by the rules are not undercut by other companies that do not.

We will also press for Europe to tackle fraud and maladministration as a matter of priority. If the EU reduced waste and abandoned ill-considered programmes, it could make significant reductions in the overall size of the European budget.
One singular difference between the two manifestos is that, in the current edition, there is a commitment to return national control of fishing. That is not a lot – but it is a start. As Graham Brady, Conservative shadow minister for Europe said in a recent speech at the London School of Economics, the point is to "establish the principle that powers can be returned to member states".

As the man said, even the longest journey starts with but a single step.

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