The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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Defence, Iraq and the future of Europe

Roger Helmer MEP

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am delighted to be here with you this evening, and equally delighted to share a platform with my friend and colleague John Hayes -- or at least I shall be, when he arrives! (John was detained on urgent business in the House).

Early on in the current European parliament, I and a couple of other robust euro-sceptic colleagues -- Chris Heaton-Harris and Dan Hannan -- were dubbed "The H Block" by an imaginative journalist. Like many names given in jest, it is one we have worn with pride ever since. And I am happy to say tonight that we are proud to recognise John Hayes as an honorary member of the H-Block.

Now I daresay that many of you here tonight, like me, are fans of J.R.R. Tolkein. You may have read his famous trilogy The Lord of the Rings, or seen the spectacularly successful movies based on the book. So I thought I might talk to you about Tolkein.

I will never forget the scene in which the elven queen Galadriel faces her ancient enemy in the south and the east and says "For years beyond count we have fought the long defeat".

Surely that is a phrase which must resonate with us euro-sceptics. For three decades, since 1973, we have fought the long defeat. We have been speaking and writing and debating, publishing books and pamphlets and articles in the press, even marching in the streets. By any objective measure, we have won the argument. Yet the European project marches on, stride by stealthy stride. Now, with the European Constitution upon us, we can see the final capstone being placed on the European Super-state.

But let's go back to Tolkein. As the city of Minas Tirith is facing its darkest hour, you turn the page and you read a line that says, ``Morning came -- morning, and a wind from the sea, and the darkness was removed’’.

Ladies & Gentlemen, I sense that wind from the sea. It is a wind from the Atlantic. Suddenly, there’s a smell of ozone in the air. I think for once that the light at the end of the tunnel may not be the on-coming train.

I think there is some "wriggle room" in politics which hasn’t been there for a long time. I think a combination of three events creates a new situation, in which we can seriously address the question of our relationship with Europe and we can, perhaps, move on to some conclusion which may be more satisfactory.

There are three things that have come together at the same time, perhaps coincidentally, to create this new and more flexible environment, and I want to talk about them tonight.

Those three things are: the War in Iraq and the events leading up to it; European enlargement, which is scheduled to take place next year; and, of course, the EU Constitution which is being discussed in something called the Constitutional Convention in Brussels as we speak.

Let me start with the War. There’s been an enormous amount of debate about the War. I don’ t want to get into the broad issues of whether we should be there or whether we shouldn’t be there, or how the War is being conducted. I am interested in the effect of the war on international institutions and inter-national relationships, and that is the issue I would particularly like to examine.

The War has had an enormous effect, I think, on the United Nations, on NATO and indeed on the European Union. Now in the case of the United Nations, I don’t personally think the United Nations has been diminished by recent events. I think it has simply been shown for what it is, in its true light. I think it is a talking shop. I say that not in any derogatory way. I think it is an excellent thing that there should be a forum where the leaders of the world’s nations can gather together and talk to each other. You don’t need me to remind you of Churchill’s dictum that "Jaw, Jaw is better than War, War".

The United Nations also has all sorts of facilities and assets and experience that enable it to deliver humanitarian services and to do various other jolly good things. So those are the good things about the United Nations. But there was a strange idea abroad in the world that the United Nations was some kind of ultimate moral arbiter of where the world should go, and what was right and what was wrong: witness the long debate about whether we needed a second UN resolution, or indeed if the UN should be involved in the reconstruction of Iraq.

I’m sure you are aware that Libya currently holds the Chair of the Humanitarian Aid Committee in the UN. And I’m sure you’re aware that Iraq itself, what a glorious irony, holds the Chair of the Disarmament Committee in the United Nations!

If you say that the United Nations is the ultimate moral arbiter, and that we may not go to War without the approval of the United Nations, what you are saying, in effect, is that Jacques Chirac has a veto on British Foreign Policy. I will not accept that Chirac has a veto on British Foreign Policy, and I suspect there aren’t many people in this room who would accept such a veto.

So I think that what the War has done for the United Nations is to show us what it is, and what it is good for, and also what it is not, and what it is not good for.

I believe the United Nations could well have a rôle in the reconstruction of Iraq. I think they have skills and assets that might assist them in doing so. But if they think they can simply take it over and that the United States and the British forces are going to go home and let them get on with it, frankly, they have a second think coming – and if Jacques Chirac thinks that French companies are going to get the profits resulting from the reconstruction work in Iraq then he has a second thought coming as well.

So that’s the United Nations.

We then have the question of NATO, and we hear a lot of doom and gloom. A lot of people are saying, well, the Americans are losing confidence in NATO. Frankly, after three NATO countries, France, Germany and Belgium, actually vetoed the supply of defensive equipment to another member of NATO, Turkey, is it any wonder that the Americans no longer have any confidence in NATO?

I personally think that those two countries, Germany and France, should be ashamed of themselves. As for Belgium of course, as we all know, it isn’t really a country at all!

So I’m not surprised – I’m not at all surprised – that the Americans seem to be losing confidence in NATO, and I share the fear than many people have expressed that NATO is perhaps getting so large that it is becoming a sort of social club of nations rather than a serious defence alliance.

When I say I support NATO, what I am really saying is that I support the Trans-Atlantic Alliance. It may be that the Trans-Atlantic Alliance will take a new form in future. It may be that the accession countries of Central and Eastern Europe will actually have a far more Atlanticist view than some of the countries that we’ve mentioned. But I am convinced that the future of this country depends upon a defence alliance with the United States.

I’m delighted if other countries are involved in that defence alliance but, frankly, if they fail at the test, then I shall be happy if they cease to be part of that alliance.

So the Trans-Atlantic Alliance must be sacrosanct. I think that NATO itself, its formal organisation, may indeed face some changes as a result of these events.

John Hayes arrives
John, I delighted to find that you are here. I’ve already said that we in the `H-Block’ in Brussels are proud to recognise you as an honorary member of the `H-Block’, and I am delighted to be here sharing a platform with you.

Now let me come to a subject that is of great interest to John. We’ve talked about the UN and NATO but one the most important international organisations affected by the War is, of course, the European Union itself. Now the European Union used to have something called the CFSP: the Common Foreign & Security Policy, which came out of the Amsterdam Treaty.

I am told that it is actually a policy of my Party to support the CFSP, but unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much of a CFSP left to support anymore. Because if these events have shown anything, it is that Europe’s Common Foreign & Security Policy is a sham and a nonsense, in exactly the same way that Europe’s Army is a sham (I like to refer to it as Europe’s Paper Army because it exists in the form of planning documents and ideas and data on hard discs, and doesn’t exist in the form of ships and men and tanks and vehicles and aircraft). But the Common Foreign & Security Policy is completely discredited.

Donald Rumsfeld took a whole lot of stick for his phrase `Old and New Europe’. And yet have you noticed the way in which that phrase has slipped into the vernacular, so that now almost any commentator on European affairs is speaking of Old Europe and New Europe, and we all know exactly what they mean?

Usually I have very few good words to say about Tony Blair, but I believe his conduct through the course of the War has been correct and principled, on the whole, and I particularly commend the letter that he arranged to get signed between eight States, some of them Member States of the European Union and some of them accession States, clearly setting out an Atlanticist position. Because that shows that in terms of global strategy, there is a split right through the middle of the European Union: the idea of a Common Foreign & Security Policy, it seems to me, cannot be rescued.

Although there are those, of course, in Brussels who go round saying "Well, of course, what this shows is we need to strengthen our Common Foreign & Security Policy", so the argument will go on. But I think that the CFSP is fatally damaged.

The interesting question, of course, is what Tony Blair will do about it. There are two things he can do at the end of the War (and incidentally, I have just been reading the Evening Standard, and news from Iraq is generally good and progress seems to be made). I believe the War will be over before too long. Then Tony Blair will have some choices to make.

From my point of view, the logical and sensible thing would be for him to say, well, we can no longer rely on Europe when the chips are down; we can’t rely on France and Germany; we can’t rely on those bits of NATO even; and we certainly can’t rely on the CFSP, so we must slow down, perhaps reverse, the process of integration and we must place much more emphasis on our Transatlantic relationship which has been brought into sharp focus by these events.

However, my fear is that he will not do that. My fear is that he will say good heavens, haven’t we done a lot of damage in Europe, haven’t we hurt the relationship with France and Germany – what we must now do is build bridges and mend fences and perhaps make some grand gesture. And, of course, we all know what the grand gesture is, that he would like to make if he could: he would like us to join the Euro. That doesn’t make it any easier for him to join the Euro. I think amongst the general public, distrust of France and Germany may be greatly heightened and therefore reluctance to join the Euro may be strengthened. I’m sure you’ve all heard the flood of French jokes –I won’t go into them now or we’ll be here all night, but there are a great number of them and they represent a view amongst the public.

So the War has had a huge impact on these major international institutions and I think has particularly called into question the whole project of European integration.

But we then come to my second issue which is Enlargement, which now does seem to be going ahead. It could still fall apart: in Malta, for example, there could be different result on, I think, April 12th, their General Election, and so on. But it does look substantially as though most of those ten countries will join the European Union next year.

And there are arguments for them joining, and my Party, the Conservative Party, does take the view that they should join, for three reasons. First of all, we owe a moral debt to these countries that we allowed to fall under the Soviet yoke after the Second World War. Secondly, the borders of the European Union to the east are uncertain and insecure places, and they will be made more secure by bringing these nations into a family of liberal democracies. And thirdly, that sooner or later as the standards of living and the economies of these countries catch up, we will have a larger Single Market in which British companies can be more successful and more profitable and we shall all be more prosperous.

I have to say that those arguments, powerful as they are, can be offset by other arguments. I have very serious concerns about the process of Enlargement:

Firstly, enlargement is enormously expensive and it has not been properly budgeted.

Secondly, agriculture. These are enormous agricultural countries, and they represent a huge threat to British agriculture. We have seen in particular the Mid-Term Review of the Common Agriculture Policy, which means less money for British farmers and more money for these new accession states. So what we are really saying to British farmers is that we want them to give up a lot of the money they currently get, in order to subsidise new competitors in Central and Eastern Europe.

Thirdly, there is the issue of migration. Many of us have been concerned about the issue of asylum seekers and economic migrants. They, of course, can be stopped and turned around if we have the political will to do so, but these people from Central and Eastern Europe will come with their little red European passports, and they will not be able to be turned around. They will come as of right as European citizens.

And there are other issues: the issue of inward investment -- we’re already seeing inward investment moving from Western Europe to the low wage markets of Eastern Europe. Let me just interject here by the way: you will hear the Euro-luvvies saying we are losing inward investment because we are not in the Euro. Whenever you hear that argument, please bash it on the head, because it is a nonsense. We are losing inward investment, first, because America has suffered after September 11th and is now doing less foreign investment and we were the major beneficiary; secondly, because Gordon Brown is over-taxing us; thirdly, because Brussels is over-regulating us; and fourthly, because Enlargement is taking inward investment to Central and Eastern Europe – and those are the key reasons. Those are the reasons that the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce have given. It is nothing to do with whether we are in the Euro or not.

Now there are others who say, should we not go to those countries and offer them the benefits of association with a Union of liberal democracies in Western Europe? – to which the counter-argument is, I believe that our membership of the European Union is damaging our democracy and undermining our prosperity. Should we be impose those burdens on these countries? Some of them, particularly Estonia, actually have much freer and more liberal markets than the European Union. They’ve got to re-regulate in order to qualify for the Acquis Communautaire.

Another argument I frequently hear is, well, if we enlarge the European Union, if we have a wider Europe, good heavens, then it can’t be possible to have this central, heavy, monolithic structure -- it must be a more flexible, looser kind of Europe if we’re going to enlarge. Well, I would love that scenario to come true, ladies and gentlemen. I think it is a very attractive scenario. We want a much looser and much more flexible Europe of independent nation states.

I have to tell you that is not how the Commission sees it. The Commission shares our diagnosis, they agree it’s going to be much more difficult to manage a larger and more diverse Europe. But their prescription is exactly the opposite. They say that if we have a larger and more diverse Europe, of course we must have more central control; of course we must have more qualified majority voting; of course we must have more harmonisation; of course we must have more decisions made in Brussels. That is the only way we can make this enlarged European Union hang together.

There is a little bit of positive news, though, on Enlargement, and that is that my experience has been that talking to many of these countries, as we have been and will do increasingly, they’re saying "Well we feel we have to join the European Union to underline the fact we’re no longer under the thumb of Moscow and the Soviet Union, but actually we’re much less keen on building a centralised Europe or a European super-state than some of the existing members". And I think there is a realistic hope that, speaking for my own Party of Conservatives, we will find more allies, probably, in Central and Eastern Europe than we necessarily do amongst the existing member states.

So I’ve dealt with War, I’ve dealt with Enlargement, let me come round finally to this question of a Constitution. The Constitution is being discussed. They have made a decision to have one, so it’s no good saying it may happen, it may not happen, it may not be called a constitution, perhaps it will be called a constitutional treaty – whatever they call it, ladies and gentlemen, it will be a Constitution, and it will be agreed at an IGC, and this Labour government will try to ratify it. Now we haven’t got time to go through the detail, and in any case it’s not fixed yet. I think only fifteen or sixteen of one hundred-plus articles are so far published in draft form.

You may have seen in today’s Telegraph that one of the next articles to be released has been leaked to the Telegraph and it is the so-called secession clause. As David Heathcoat-Amory rightly says, it is no secession clause at all, it is a prison clause! It says that if you want to leave the European Union, you’ve got to have a two-thirds majority in the European Parliament. Does anybody believe we’re going to see a two-thirds majority in the European Parliament for a country that wishes to leave? So far as I am concerned, if this country is not able to decide by itself, unilaterally, in the House of Commons, that we are leaving a particular organisation, then we are no longer a sovereign nation. I question whether we are a sovereign nation now.

But we cannot possibly accept that particular stricture which amounts, as I said, to a prison clause. If we had time, we could go through many other clauses which I’m sure you would find equally unacceptable. There are many people, some of my colleagues in Westminster, some of my colleagues in Brussels, who are quite rightly and quite commendably seeking to introduce changes. My colleague, Timothy Kirkhope, in the European Parliament, sits on this Convention and is introducing very worthy and very worthwhile amendments and he is putting a lot of work into that.

But I have to tell you that his work will go for nothing. It is right that we should do it, it is right that we should make our voice heard. But those amendments will not be passed and indeed, our vision of a Europe of independent sovereign nations will get very little attention from Valérie Giscard d’Estaing and his Praesidium of Federalists.

So what can we do? I think we should be focussing our minds not on vain attempts to modify the draft Constitution, because we will not succeed, but on opposing the Constitution in its entirety (background clapping).

How will they seek to ratify it? We know what Labour would like to do, because Michael Ancram has already demanded a referendum on the Constitution and the Labour government has said No, we’re a parliamentary democracy, we’re going to ratify it through the House of Commons, we have an enormous majority: no problem!

Funnily enough we may have some very strange allies -- politics make strange bedfellows. But the fact is that the federalists in Brussels, actually embarrassed at last by their own success, are starting to say perhaps we should have a Europe-wide referendum on this Constitution, because what legitimacy does it have if it has not been approved by the people? So Blair could find himself under pressure not only from the opposition in Westminster, but also from the federalists in Brussels, to have a referendum. There are some of my colleagues who are going around saying that this is wishful thinking, and there won’t be a referendum. I personally wouldn’t take that strong a view, I think there could be a referendum and I think it could be, as somebody once said, the mother of all battles, if we had such a referendum!

However, let’s imagine for a moment that we don’t have a referendum, and the Government gets away with the constitutional outrage of putting this European constitution, which gives away control of our nation, through the House of Commons, and getting it approved. I think we must do a number of things.

I think the Conservative Party should make it very clear that a future Conservative administration would re-open the question and not accept it as a done deal. But I think what we should do immediately – we have fourteen months to go before the next European elections – I think we should declare that the next European elections are a referendum on the Constitution, if we’re not allowed one otherwise. And we should invite – well, I speak as a Conservative and I appreciate there are others who are not Conservatives in the room – but I think we should be saying: vote Conservative if you don’t want this Constitution; but if you actually want to give away your country to Brussels, well, you can vote Labour or Liberal Democrat, it doesn’t make much difference.

So that is the position we are facing. But I sincerely believe, as I said right at the beginning, that for the first time in as long as I remember, for the first time in the thirty years that we’ve been part of this project, there is a chance now to debate it and make changes that has not been there before.

If you think of the EU as a super-tanker, it is terribly difficult to turn it around. It keeps on going. Is it reaching a safe harbour of super-state status, as they would see it, or is it, in fact, heading for stormy waters? I think if we work hard enough and address our efforts in the right way, it may indeed be heading for stormy waters. Break-up may follow.

But let’s not miss the key point that this is absolutely fundamental to the survival of independence and self-determination and democracy in this country. If we lose now, we lose everything. But if we win, we shall have a great victory – and if I may quote one more line from Tolkein, in conclusion, if we win perhaps "our joy will be like swords, and the people will sing in all the ways of the city.’’