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Richard Ashworth MEP: A vision of Europe we can all share

ASHWORTH RICHARDRichard Ashworth is the leader of Britain's Conservative MEPs.  Follow Richard on Twitter.

Yesterday I was in the audience at Bloomberg to hear our Prime Minister set out to the country his vision of our future relationship with Europe.

At the core of his message was a warm and overwhelmingly positive vision of a reformed and reinvigorated European Union, with British involvement at its heart and the single market its engine.

He stated, calmly and clearly, how vital Europe is to the UK - and vice versa. He acknowledged that our close involvement with the rest of Europe is an inevitable function of our history, our geography, our culture and our politics. He carefully described these ties that bind - ties which on some levels are unbreakable.

But he also vividly diagnosed the sickness which we now see laying Europe so low -  its democratic remoteness, the euro's fragility and a fundamental lack of competitiveness.

Disaffection over the EU is growing across Europe. It is not only in Britain that citizens increasingly see the EU as remote, unaccountable and costly. People begin to see the union as the problem rather than the solution.

As Mr Cameron indicated, however, it is in Britain where democratic consent for the EU has worn wafer thin. That dissatisfaction must be addressed. That is why Europe must change and we must help it do so.

Sometimes, it is true, the antipathy is based on misconceptions or downright untruths about what Brussels does or does not. Many of those EU myths are cheerfully propagated by the shriller political voices and by elements of the media.

One of the benefits of the referendum debate when it comes will be the opportunity to try to separate truth from the lies over Europe. The electorate must be allowed an informed decision based on sound facts and figures, not posturing and polemics.

But for me the truly visionary part of this excellent speech was not the offer of a referendum, but the promise to seek an electoral mandate for a radical renegotiating and reshaping of our engagement with the EU.

I share entirely his vision of a new EU of flexibility and openness, of a Europe that focuses on investment in technology, trade, research and enterprise. A Europe which continues to pull down the barriers to the free flow of goods, talent and ideas, and stops putting up its own obstacles to innovation, commerce and economic growth. A Europe which understands that power can be allowed to flow back to its nation states and not be drawn ever more centrally.

We need to help the EU start listening to its citizens and stop lecturing them.

That question of tone will be crucial when we set out to negotiate our new relationship and seek to repatriate powers such as social and employment law.

We will not attempt to browbeat people - as some in Brussels would allege and others would mistakenly prefer. Our requests are reasonable and we will argue them reasonably.

The PM compellingly out his own preference for Britain to remain part of the EU, but made it clear that our commitment cannot be taken for granted.

Quite right. Because if we can help Europe address its glaring failures - by pushing for reform, focus on the single market and greater flexibility for all its member states - then we will have done the EU a favour as well as ourselves.

Europe successfully confronted the problems facing our parents' generation. Now it is our turn to build a different kind of Europe, fit for our children's generation.

There is a perception in some parts that by issuing this challenge, the UK is being an awkward customer. That we are the only ones wanting change when others do not.

Well, let's consider 25 per cent of people out of work, 50 per cent youth unemployment in some countries, a stagnant economy and a chronic lack of global competitiveness. If that not creating a hunger for change in the rest of Europe it should be.

We British Conservatives led Europe into its greatest achievements - the creation of the single market and the EU's expansion to bring in former Soviet-bloc states. People portrayed us then as the awkward squad - but we were right. And we are right now, too.

If we as Conservatives can show this kind of leadership, within Britain as well as to the rest of Europe, I believe we can forge an EU of the future which not only suits Britain's requirements but saves the EU from itself.

Let me put three key questions that will measure the success of yesterday's speech.

Is it a message the Conservative Party can unify behind? Yes it is.

Did he set out a clear vision of how Britain can enjoy a better future in Europe? Yes he did.

Are we now more likely to win the chance to deliver that vision - through victory in the next general election? Yes we are.

For me, DC ticked all the boxes.


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