In 1964, Ronald Reagan, at the time a little known actor who had never held elected office, gave a speech endorsing Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater for President. Reagan had already started to establish a name for himself in the growing American conservative movement of which Goldwater was its head at the time. During the speech Reagan set out the problems that faced the nation and how conservative ideas would fix a divided country.
America in the 1960’s was at a crossroads, deeply divided and still reeling from the assassination of President John F Kennedy a few months before. It was in the middle of battle for the soul of the nation with culture and counter-culture clashing over the future direction of the Union. A battle of wills between the people and establishment.
Europe today faces a similar battle for its future. Answering fundamental questions about which direction it too wishes to move in. Does it want to move towards a centralisation of power, away from the people and towards the elite, or does it wish to stay that coalition of willing partners, working together on the issues that really matter. I believe that the people of Europe would rather the latter option. They would rather Europe applied the breaks and took some time to reflect on what direction they want to move in.
And the signs have been there for a long time now. Each election that takes place in the member states, on every level, sees those who wish to oppose the establishment doing a little better. In some cases those on the extremes have come close to taking power.
The federalists would like you to believe that these are just anomalies, that they aren’t really reflective of the mood of the people and that actually they were victories for their own cause. But I put this to you, at what point did Marine Le Pen securing 33% of the popular vote in France become a victory, when only ten years before she won less than 10%. Or when did the Austrian Freedom Party losing the Presidency by only a few percentage points become a victory, when in years past they would never have found themselves in the second round.
And in the United Kingdom, a majority of voters decided to leave the Union entirely. If these aren’t the wake up call that Europe needs a change of direction then I don’t know what is. It’s clear that something has gone wrong along the way, and contrary to what Mr Verhofstadt or Mr Weber may want to believe, this wave of dissatisfaction is heading for Brussels.
So I put it to those in the establishment, it’s not too late to change. Another Europe is possible, and without having to surrender to the populist forces of Madam Le Pen and Mr Salvini. Change can come in the form of well-structured reform. That once again sees the single market as the centre of European policy, rather than the obsession with creating a political union. A Europe that sees the commission as the guardian of the treaties, rather than a quasi-government. A Europe that focuses on cooperation in the areas that matter and respects the principle of subsidiarity, rather than trying to take more power away from the member states.
For the last ten years, the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists has been at the forefront of that movement for constructive European Reform. From London to Warsaw, Bratislava to Riga, Prague to Rome, the conservative movement has been working towards the creation of a platform to promote substantial change in the EU, and move Europe back towards policies that work in the interest of ordinary people.
When people complain about the EU, the conservatives don’t sneer at them and call them populists, they ask them how Europe can better work for them. What policies need to be changed and updated. And they have a proven track record of doing it. Constructively engaging with stakeholders to create better, leaner, regulation that helps businesses to grow and keeps consumers safe.
Take the Diselgate Scandal as an example. It was clear that Volkswagen and other car manufacturers were cheating the system when it came to emissions tests, and showed the inadequacy of the current regulations. Daniel Dalton MEP delivered the only legislative response to the emissions scandal that will mean cars are tested on the roads, in real driving conditions, throughout their lifetime. An example of conservatives working constructively to change bad regulation and make life better.
Equally, Swedish Democrat MEP Peter Lundgren delivered substantial changes to transport legislation, by changing regulation for truck drivers. Mr Lundgren himself had spent many years as a truck driver and so he knew where value could be added, and where regulation would get in the way off his former colleagues on the road.
Conservatives also led the way on reforming counter-terrorism legislation, taking leading positions in the European Parliament. Working closely with Commissioners, advisors and the EU’s Counter Terrorism Coordinator, they updated guidelines on dealing with radicalism, extremist content online, and how to prevent terrorists from entering the EU. Constructive cooperation meant that Member States and not the central bureaucracy remained at the core of these changes.
And yet, all the while, those on the federalist fringes of European politics continued to push their agenda for more Europe. The last five years have seen the EU take power away from Member States on foreign policy and security policy, two areas most sacrosanct to nation states. The proposals being pushed forward today would undermine the independence of European countries defense and ability to choose the direction of their own foreign policy. It would undermine the NATO Alliance and undermine the Transatlantic relationship. The obsession with a European Army is heading the same way as the Euro.
And all the while, federalists are looking to take more power from the Member States and hand them to the Commission, including the ability to raise taxes. They want to create an EU finance ministry, cementing their control over the Eurozone, and finally building capacity to raise their own resources. As conservatives, we stand against the imposition of European level taxes, and reaffirm our position that lower taxes overall raise the quality of life for working people.
That’s why in this election we must conjure up the spirit of Ronald Reagan and make this a time for choosing. Choosing whether or not we want to continue down the current path towards a European Super State, or if we apply the brakes, and take time to reassess our direction of travel. It’s time to choose what kind of leaders we have in Europe, do we continue with the same federalist elite, or do we allow the next generation to step up and bring fresh ideas.
If we want to prevent the rise of populism, and continue to have a Europe that works for everyone, then it’s time for change.