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25 years on, Margeret Thatcher’s Bruges speech still shows the way forward

16 April 2013

25 years on, Margeret Thatcher’s Bruges speech still shows the way forward

Speaking in a debate on the Future of Europe with Finnish Prime Minister Katainen, European Conservatives and Reformists group leader Martin Callanan said that Margaret Thatcher’s 1988 Bruges speech was still strikingly relevant to the debate.

Speaking in a debate on the Future of Europe with Finnish Prime Minister Katainen, European Conservatives and Reformists group leader Martin Callanan said that Margaret Thatcher’s 1988 Bruges speech was still strikingly relevant to the debate.

He said:

“As many in the House will understand, last week was a very sad one for Conservatives with the death of Margaret Thatcher. 25 years ago she set out a new direction for Europe to take in her famous Bruges speech. And, looking back on it now it’s striking how relevant it would be today.

“To quote one passage: “What we need now is to take decisions on the next steps forward, rather than let ourselves be distracted by Utopian goals. Utopia never comes, because we know we should not like it if it did.” Yet even today, many focus on the abstract utopian concept of completing the European project. For them only ‘More Europe’ is the answer.

“Prime Minister, with the help of your government, the Council set out on a more realistic path with a reformed and reduced European budget. You are to be congratulated on that – I hope you’ll be able to convince the EPP leadership in this House who seem to want to out-do the Socialists in their enthusiasm to spend more and more taxpayers money. However, many of the EU’s economic problems stem from the fork in the road that we took in the Delors days. We moved away from competition and open markets, and towards harmonization and overregulation.

“Former commissioner Verheugen, from your Group Mr Swoboda, estimated that EU regulation cost European business 600 billion euros. That’s four times the entire output of Finland! Yet we continue churning out laws as though our economy can cope, and somehow we don’t have 26 million people unemployed.

“It was Einstein who said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting it to turn out differently” Is it not time we tried a different course? Mr President, the Euro epitomized utopian thinking. We rushed into the project without thinking through the economics. Yes, the debt crisis was the trigger, but the euro was a fortress built on sand. Jacques Delors himself said that the euro ‘cannot exist without the counterpart of a European government.” The agenda was quite clear even back then.

“Federalists like your European minister, our old friend Alexander Stubb will no doubt approve of this. When in 2006 the Belgian Prime Minister, one Guy Verhofstadt, came to this parliament, Mr Stubb effused, ‘There are not too many ‘federalists’ out there: there are many closet federalists but not many real federalists anymore.” I bet he never repeats that in Finland now! If only some national leaders had been that honest 15 years ago, we would not be in this situation today.

“The final cost of this utopian project will be enormous for your country, Prime Minister. We all know how unpopular the bailouts are. Support for the euro is still strong in Finland and given your geography, it is understandable why. However, do the Finnish people really want to see their taxpayer money flow to other parts of the currency union? We know from the remarks of your socialist finance Minister that she certainly doesn’t.

“We need to be honest with people about what membership of the euro is going to cost and we need to take the difficult decisions required.

“Because, until we do, our attention will never focus on the real challenge we face: maintaining our competitiveness in a challenging world. Former Commissioner Bolkestein, from your political family Mr Verhofstadt, put it very well last week when he said, “The euro turned out to be a sleeping pill which made Europe doze off instead of thinking about our competitiveness.” We should be cutting red tape, freeing up labour markets, restructuring our economies, opening up to trade, and slimming down the state.

However, if we learn anything from Margaret Thatcher’s life it’s that change is possible if you’re willing to fight for it. Outside this building there is a real desire for change: for the EU to focus on building a stronger economy, on reforming its policies for the 21st century, and on decentralizing power.

“25 years on, Margaret Thatcher’s speech still shows the way forward. Let’s not keep making the same mistakes of the past. Instead, let’s take Europe in a new direction.”

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