Kennedy puts environment centre-stage in Euro Election Campaign
Charles Kennedy today put the environment centre-stage at the launch of the Party's European election campaign in the run up to elections on 10 June.
Mr Kennedy was joined by Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Menzies Campbell, Leader of the UK Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament Diana Wallis MEP and Chair of the Liberal Democrats Campaigns and Communications Committee Lord Tim Razzall. Launching the Party's European Election Manifesto titled 'Making Europe Work for You', at Party Headquarters in London, Charles Kennedy said:
" 'Making Europe work for you' will be the Liberal Democrats' main theme in the elections to the European Parliament.
"These are extraordinary times for Europe and for Britain's position within Europe. A democratic transformation almost beyond imagination is taking place.
"Yet, at one and the same time, Britain finds itself inadequately engaged at the heart of Europe. A decision over the Single Currency remains delayed; the Prime Minister has arrived at the necessary need for a referendum on the constitutional Treaty for reasons which smack more of expediency than political principle.
"But it is Iraq which has done the most damage. It is a breathtaking leap to choose to distance our country so dramatically from both the United Nations and the European Union at one and the same time. Yet that is the path which Tony Blair has chosen.
"To govern is to choose. That political choice having been made, the European elections are the most appropriate forum in which to cast judgement over the wisdom of this government. June 10th is a telling opportunity to send Tony Blair an unambiguous message.
"These days, Prime Minister, over Britain's role in a sane world order, you no longer speak in our name. You appear increasingly isolated, Britain appears increasingly isolated. We are voting for something better.
"We Liberal Democrats see the European Union for what it is: a way of tackling shared problems, upholding shared values, settling disputes between traditionally fractious neighbours and applying the rule of law to agreements that have been entered into.
"Voters can use the European elections to help make Europe work better to deliver peace, prosperity and action on the environment.
"We can continue working to ensure peace and security after centuries of European war and we can work together to fight new threats.
"Our prosperity in Britain also depends upon what we can sell across Europe. Well over half of what we sell abroad goes to European Union countries. By working together can we make Europe a better place to do business and that means creating jobs. By enforcing competition within this enormous market, we can help keep prices down.
"Acting as a trading bloc with other European Union countries improves the way we can trade with the richest nations and helps us to promote fair trade with developing nations.
"The Liberal Democrats are distinctive in the main parties in putting concern for the environment at the heart of our approach. We believe that people recognise the benefits of Europe working together to tackle pollution and give a lead to environmental protection throughout the world. Tackling air and water pollution requires tough action at the European level - action which has been strongly supported by the Liberal Democrats - and we are right to be very proud of our record in the European Parliament on environmental issues.
"The fight against crime also needs more international co-operation than ever before to tackle threats that originate in and are co-ordinated across many countries. We need to make Europe work better to fight organised crime and threats from terrorists that are on a far greater scale than we have faced before.
"Of course the European Union isn't perfect, nor is the way that we do things at Westminster. But you have to be part of it if you want to change it.
"Some of those changes can come about if there is a clear agreement on what Europe can and cannot do. That should be the aim of a new constitution.
"Our manifesto sets out clearly the benefits that membership of the European Union has brought to Britain.
"It sets out clearly what Liberal Democrat MEPs are achieving for their constituents. And it sets out how we want to make Europe work for you."
LibDem Deputy Leader Menzies Campbell raised continuing public concerns over Iraq as a significant factor in the run up to elections on 10 June. Mr Campbell said:
"The central question of whether we went to war on a flawed prospectus has never yet been answered. The weapons of mass destruction, which were the justification for the Government's argument that military action against Saddam Hussein was the only option, have never been found. And it is almost universally accepted that they never will be.
"No proper planning was made for the aftermath of the conflict with the terrible consequences we have seen in recent weeks. Belatedly the UN has been asked to take the 'vital role' promised to it by President Bush and Prime Minister Blair. But the UN should have been fully engaged long before now, to ensure that the handover date of the 30th June could be met peacefully and with a genuine transfer of sovereignty and authority.
"The decision to go to war was in truth the Prime Minister's. He cannot escape responsibility for the consequences of that decision."
Leader of the UK Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament Diana Wallis MEP went on to set out the Party's record in Europe. Ms Wallis said:
"Liberal Democrat MEPs have worked hard for the last five years to make the difference in the European Parliament. The pivotal position of the Liberal Democrat group means that it is often our votes that tip the balance. Indeed, in a recent Friends of the Earth survey, Liberal Democrat MEPs came out with an admirable record for supporting environmentally-friendly legislation. We voted to tackle water and air pollution and to make recycling a workable reality. By considering the environmental and business impact of legislation together, we have been successful at balancing the concerns of industry with those of citizens.
"Our approach throughout has been pro-Europe and pro-reform of Europe. To that end, I and my colleagues have campaigned long and hard for reform of the EU. We have championed a more open and transparent system of pay and expenses for MEPs. We want to end the costly roadshows to Strasbourg with a single seat in Brussels. We have worked to hold other EU institutions to account. We have pushed for public access to EU documents, and have increased Parliament's scrutiny of the Commission and Central Bank. At the same time, we are not afraid to champion the EU, the European Parliament or indeed our own actions when we achieve real results.
"We believe that the Constitution will do much to increase the effectiveness of the European Parliament and that of the EU itself. For Liberal Democrat MEPs, a Constitution for the EU is part and parcel of our reformist agenda. Now that the EU has grown from 15 to 25 it must be able to function effectively. With the Constitution, MEPs would have more power to scrutinise and reform the Common Agricultural Policy. The Council of Ministers would have to meet in public as we do. And we would know that subsidiarity was working more effectively as national parliaments would for the first time be brought into the process."