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18 October 2007

EU Reform Treaty ’good for Britain’

Europe Minister Jim Murphy explains his take on the Lisbon summit while Lib Dem

By Jim Murphy

Gordon Brown and David Miliband are taking part in a European Council meeting in Lisbon, where the Portuguese Presidency will lead a discussion on the EU Reform Treaty among heads of state, heads of Government and Foreign Ministers from all 27 EU member states.

The Reform Treaty is good for Britain and good for Europe. The UK already benefits substantially from its membership of the EU, and will continue to do so under a reformed, re-invigorated EU, able to deliver for citizens across Europe.

The EU strengthens the UK’s ability to combat climate change and increases our influence in the world, be it in Burma, Iran or Russia. Let’s not forget – 57% of total British trade is with the EU. And around three million British jobs are linked (directly and indirectly) to our trade in goods and services with other EU countries.

Each EU country has its own perspective on how things should be done, but every government in the EU agrees on one thing – that we do need the Reform Treaty.

The Reform Treaty will make the EU more efficient, reducing the EU Commission by a third, simplifying voting systems and introducing a single permanent President of the European Council, rather than the current musical chairs of the rotating system, where member states take six-monthly turns.

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It will give the national parliaments of the member states a greater say in EU decision-making, with every national parliament receiving proposals for new EU legislation directly, and giving them the power to send proposals back if a third of member states’ parliaments object.

And there will also be more majority voting in the Council of Ministers, in areas where the UK wants to see quicker decision-making – like humanitarian aid.

These are changes we want. However, we’re also firm on what we don’t want the Reform Treaty to do. There will be no transfer of power away from the UK on issues of fundamental importance to our sovereignty.

By securing our ‘red lines’, we have ensured that there is no threat to our existing labour and social legislation nor our social security system. There is no threat to our common law system or our police and judicial processes. And there is no threat to our independent foreign and defence policy.

The PM has been clear all along: our red lines must be fully respected in the final treaty text. We have been tough in our negotiating stance, and there is no suggestion that anyone will try to unpick the good deal we have achieved. So going into the meeting today and tomorrow we are cautious but confident that they will be respected.

Once the text of the Reform Treaty has been agreed, it will be formally signed by EU Heads of State and Government at the next European Council meeting in December. It will then be for each member state to ratify the Reform Treaty as it sees fit. In the UK, Parliament will have the opportunity to debate the Reform Treaty, and as with all Treaties, Parliament must be satisfied that it is in the national interest, before it can be implemented in national law. Without Parliamentary approval the Treaty cannot go ahead.

When that time comes, I will be making the case to parliamentary colleagues that not only is the Reform Treaty good for Britain and good for Europe, but that it enable us to put the institutional debate behind us. It removes the great distraction that has been consuming the EU for too long. With these institutional questions out of the way, the EU can now channel all of its efforts into the things that really matter.

That means delivering for British and other EU citizens, and making their lives better. There are 92 million people out of work in Europe – that is an issue we must address, together, with urgency. The EU has led the way in the response to climate change – but it can do more. On security, too, the EU can up its game – on both the fight against cross-border crime and terrorism and energy security. The UK is determined that the Reform Treaty marks an end to the period of looking inward and heralds a redoubling of the effort to make the EU deliver for its citizens through effective action in the world.

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