Hurd to blast Brussels 'fraud' in poll campaign

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DOUGLAS HURD, the Foreign Secretary, is to launch a fierce attack on Europe's 'fraud, waste and far-fetched idealism', paving the way for a Conservative European election campaign that will satisfy critics of Brussels.

In an apparent overture to Eurosceptics in his party, Mr Hurd will tommorrow highlight a 'catalogue of crime' in the EU, and warn of the danger of Europe forgetting that its legitimacy derives from its electors. Brussels, he will say, must declare a truce on rhetoric.

A draft of the Foreign Secretary's speech, to be delivered in Belgium, gives the first indication that the Tories' campaign for the 9 June poll will feature tough criticism of the way the EU operates.

The contribution from Mr Hurd, who chairs the committee drawing up the Tory manifesto, follows an attack last week by Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade. Mr Heseltine said that Europe was becoming an 'over- protected, over-centralised community suffering from Eurosclerosis'.

The Foreign Secretary will go further, arguing that the true European vision now lies in making a success of what has already been agreed, and widening the EU, rather than designing more stages of closer co-operation. Mr Hurd will call for the Commission to be audited by outside consultants and warn that 'stagnant organisations always spend too much on out-of-date tasks'. He will highlight a proposal, soon to be announced by the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, for legally-binding joint action against fraud. This will be aimed against attempts made within member states to defraud EU budgets.

At present most EU efforts against fraud are directed at irregularities directly within such institutions as the Commission or the European Parliament.

Mr Hurd's language, some of the toughest he has used about the EU, will strike a chord with the Eurosceptics. He will accuse Europe of concentrating on 'designing future stages of European co-operation' rather than providing evidence that 'present arrangements work, that the present administration is sound, that present mistakes and abuses are put right'.

It may outflank hardliners who intended to wait until after the elections to counter-attack. They planned to blame the expected electoral setback on the campaign being too European.

Their champion Lady Thatcher is due to be out of the country - probably in the United States - during much of the campaign and is restricting her appearances.

She has already turned down several requests for appearance for candidates, arguing that her time is limited and that she will be only be supporting a few friends.

However Mr Hurd's tone may ring alarm bells with the pro-European wing of the party, which blames the Conservatives' disastrous performance in the last European elections on a negative campaign.

In a letter to the Times yesterday Ray Whitney, chairman of the Positive European Group, recalled that Lady Thatcher 'then saddled us with the slogan 'Who wants to live on a diet of Brussels?'

'The result was a drop of Conservative seats from 45 to 32 and Socialist control of the European Parliament.'

Pro-Europeans said yesterday that ministers would have to be careful not to criticise the institutions themselves, only the way they operate. Senior sources said the campaign would present Europe as an area of opportunity to trade, but of 'too much socialist bureaucracy'.