Constitution Opposition does not mean rejecting EU - MEP

11 January 2005
"Rejecting Europe's new Constitution is not anti-European, a Tory MEP insisted today."

By Geoff Meade, PA Europe Editor, Brussels

Timothy Kirkhope told the European Parliament in Strasbourg that saying the Constitution was wrong did not mean opposing the entire European Union.

He warned that Prime Minister Tony Blair faced an "ignominious defeat" when he put the issue to a referendum, probably early in 2006.

Mr Kirkhope, speaking on the eve of a European Parliament vote calling on all EU governments to promote the benefits of the constitution for the public, said: "There is nothing anti-European in opposing this Constitution.

"It centralises more powers, makes the EU institutions more remote, reduces the powers of nation states and leads us inexorably to a European state.

"Europe must develop as an equal partnership of nation states. When the British people, and perhaps others, reject this Constitution, they will not be rejecting membership of the Union. They will be signalling very clearly their opposition to any European integration process."

Mr Kirkhope said the UK would remain an EU member, even after a Constitution rejection.

"Of course, the Constitution is of such far-reaching significance that its rejection in one or more member states will render it null and void, both politically and morally.

"Should this be the outcome, Europe will then have a fresh opportunity to establish a modern Union that respects and celebrates its diversity, rather than one which demands conformity."

But Liberal Democrat MEP Andrew Duff countered: "If you are for Europe, you should be for the Constitution. Europe cannot be constructed without clear, liberal and social values, strong rules and robust parliamentary democracy. Europe will not work without strong and effective institutions in Brussels. Without the Constitution, Europe will grind to a halt and the quality of legislation will decline."

He added:

"The main argument for the Constitution is that it strengthens the EU. It enhances our capacity to act at home and abroad, and makes us able to stand on our own feet in world affairs and shape Europe's response to globalisation in a political way".

SNP MEP Alyn Smith told the European Parliament that he will vote against the Parliament's report on the European Constitution. He and his SNP colleague Ian Hudghton were the only two Scottish MEPs out of seven who spoke in the debate.

Mr Smith said he would vote against the constitution because it failed to recognise Scotland's "dignity".

He added:

"There are some things to admire in this Constitution, but much to dislike and my party has, on balance, decided that we cannot recommend it to the people of Scotland.

"The Scottish Parliament is the only body responsible for justice, the environment, education, health and many other areas of Scottish life, yet the provisions in the treaty to bring it into the EU law-making process are wholly inadequate.

"We've seen in fisheries the disastrous results that follow when EU law is inadequately sensitive to reality on the ground. This Constitution will not sufficiently improve EU law making for Scotland. More to the point this constitution does not take account of the dignity of my country and we will therefore vote against."

Dublin's Sinn Fein MEP Mary Lou McDonald called for a "real debate" on the issue. "The proposed Constitution is one of the most significant social, political, economic and constitutional issues facing Ireland and the other EU member states today.

"Awareness-raising of any kind makes a positive contribution to debate so long as the information provided is balanced and impartial.

"However the European Parliament and Commission must not interfere with the democratic process in each member state. Citizens must be entitled to assess the Constitution on an open and fair basis, listen to all sides of the argument, and decide for themselves."

She said Sinn Fein was currently discussing its stand on the Constitution, and would take a formal position at its annual gathering early in March.

"Issues of democratic accountability, national sovereignty, neutrality and militarisation, the centralisation of powers within the EU, and the neo-liberal agenda are all key areas of concern.

"The Constitution is not a charter for an EU of equals," she said.