Sayeeda Warsi: AECR Conference Speech 2011
Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great privilege for me to welcome you to the first full Conference of the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists.
Here in this room are 120 representatives of Centre-Right parties from 26 countries.
We come from different places, we bring different perspectives, but we are united by our beliefs:
Free people, free markets, free nations.
Let me start by thanking the AECR Board members who have put this meeting together:
Jan Zahradil, Daniel Hannan, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown and Adam Bielan.
And above all: let me thank all of you.
Now, I take this alliance very seriously.
You and I want the same things.
Like me, you want serious reform of the European Union.
Like me, you believe in lower taxation, less regulation and smaller governments.
And like me, you believe the family is the bedrock of society.
That is why I am so proud to support the AECR – and I’ve backed you right from the very moment I became Chairman of the Conservative Party.
My first foreign trip as Chairman was to attend the very first AECR Council Meeting in Warsaw.
I have attended every Council meeting since.
And together with Geoffrey Van Orden, I give a lot of time and energy to spreading our message and recruiting new AECR members.
So the message from the Conservative Party is clear: we don’t just believe in this alliance, we’re investing time and energy in the project.
This isn’t some alliance of convenience.
This is an amazing opportunity to recast Europe and realign the EU with the wishes and needs of its citizens.
But of course, things haven’t always been easy.
When the alliance was set up they said we were crazy.
Just remember what they said about this group.
They said it wouldn’t last.
They said no-one would join it.
They said it wouldn’t be taken seriously.
But today we are a serious, mainstream alliance.
We have grown in strength and numbers over the last two years.
And we’re promoting our cause and fighting our corner.
So the ECR Group in the European Parliament have helped get President Barroso re-elected, in the teeth of opposition from the left.
We’ve stood almost alone against EU Budget increases.
And we’ve led the calls for EU reform.
At the same time the AECR has gone from strength to strength.
In the last year, two more parties have signed up.
More potential members are on the horizon.
And we have taken our agenda across the continent – debating tax in Warsaw, austerity in Riga and Balkan ties at the Croatia conference.
A string of successes – and that’s in only two years.
TRIUMPH OF VALUES
But our biggest success is the triumph of our values.
I heard them say on the news the other day: ‘who foresaw the crisis in Europe?’
Well, we did.
We said the EU should curb waste and bureaucracy.
We said Europe should be more democratically accountable.
Above all, fiscal responsibility and sound finances are in our DNA.
And more and more people agree.
Thanks to the AECR, there is for the first time a confederation of mainstream parties who want to rebalance powers.
Until two years ago, there was no organised force in the EU that challenged the status quo.
Every group in the European Parliament – the Communists, the Greens, the Socialists, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats – supported federalism.
They all wanted a federal foreign policy, a federal immigration policy, a federal tax policy.
Now we have broken their cartel.
No longer does the status quo command widespread support.
No longer does ever-closer union seem inevitable.
And now more people are buying into our vision of a new and different Europe.
A Europe which goes with the grain of our national traditions, and respects the loyalties we feel for our home countries.
In the words of my good friend Daniel Hannan: “a Europe of nations, not a nation of Europe”.
Here’s what I believe that means:
We want to see powers devolved to the lowest level – to councils, communities, individual citizens.
We believe the EU budget should reflect what’s happening to national budgets when we are all making economies at home.
Above all, we know that the answer to Europe’s debt crisis is not more debt.
I am proud of the steps my Party in Britain have taken to bring about change to the EU.
By bringing in a new referendum lock, we have given people a veto over the handover of future powers to Brussels.
By putting in place a new sovereignty clause, we’re making clear that ultimate power lies in Britain – not in Europe.
And by getting out of the EU bailout mechanism, we have made a start on our plan to bring back powers from Brussels to Britain.
But making these changes does not make us anti-European.
Now is not the time to turn our backs on our friends.
We must continue the work we have started together.
This is the work that Margaret Thatcher began, bringing about growth through a competitive single market.
And that must be our mission today.
And with that, it is my great pleasure to introduce a man who is leading this mission.
A man who fought a campaign about being in Europe but not run by Europe.
He was criticised – but he was right.
As we stand here today with the Eurozone in crisis, we know he called it exactly right on the Euro.
He knew then – as we see now – there are fundamental flaws in monetary union.
Thanks to his courage, and that of millions of this country, Britain is in a much stronger position today.
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming out Foreign Secretary, William Hague.