Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

European Council

Delivered in Plenary - 14th June 2006

Mr President

I wish I was making this speech in a Parliament based in Brussels rather than in this Chamber, since the ongoing Strasbourg circus, now exacerbated by financial scandal, brings our House into disrepute.

I welcome, of course, the fact that Bulgaria and Romania are on track to join the European Union in 2007, even if there are still issues to be resolved, such as the system – or lack of a system – for the protection of children in Romania, and the level of organised crime in Bulgaria. However, delaying their admission by one more year would serve no purpose other than to send the wrong signal to their peoples and governments.

On the vexed issue of what to do about the EU Constitution, I agree with those who say it is dead in its current format. Nevertheless, even those of us opposed in principle to a constitution, with a foreign minister, permanent president and binding charter of fundamental rights, accept there is a need for treaty adjustment in order to accommodate future enlargement beyond the Nice formula and to settle the increasing imbalance between small and large Member States in terms of voting rights in the institutions. This matter can only get worse with the proliferation of mini-States in the western Balkans – as recently seen with the independence of Montenegro – all of which are likely to become full Members in the next ten years.

I would also be in favour of retrieving the proposed powers to increase the influence of national parliaments and of more transparency in the co-legislative process in the Council of Ministers, whose current behaviour is far too secretive. That is why I particularly deplore the U-turn by the British Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, which completely contradicts both the views of her Prime Minister and the general thrust of reform and transparency in the European Union. It is deeply regrettable that the British Government, unlike its Danish partner, is not cross-examined or mandated in the House of Commons before deciding on its voting position in the Council of Ministers. The whole process of framing legislation would be empowered, both in the House of Commons and for the British people, if UK ministers went before the House of Commons and were asked which way they were going to vote in the Council of Ministers and then did so in a totally transparent and open fashion. I would therefore say ‘no’ to Mrs Beckett on her views on transparency in the Council of Ministers.