When the British Conservatives left the European People’s Party to form a new alliance in the European Parliament the scoffers said that no one else would want to join. They were proved wrong.
What seems to concern Europhile opinion nowadays is not that too few MEPs are signing-up for the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), but too many – in particular, the seven newly elected MEPs of Germany’s AfD party.
In a post published on Wednesday, the Open Europe blog was in no doubt as to the significance of the AfD’s membership application:
“If AfD joins, it will be explosive. The party would bring seven MEPs to the ECR group, allowing it to potentially overtake the liberals, ALDE, as the third-largest group in the European Parliament (unless ALDE also gets some new recruits). An enlarged ECR would attract additional cash and staff, as well as more important committee posts. Also, the group may well become a more influential voice by virtue of being bigger, and therefore much harder to ignore. It can serve to put significant pressure on the European People’s Party (EPP) in particular.”
Well, the explosion has happened. On Thursday, the existing ECR MEPs voted in favour AfD’s application. According to Reuters it was a close-run thing:
“The tally of the secret ballot was not released but members said it was 29 votes for, 26 against. Two members of Cameron’s Conservatives defied his call to vote against AfD, sources said. Had they obeyed, the German party would have been rejected.”
As we’ve noted before on the Deep End and elsewhere on ConservativeHome, the AfD are a sober and sensible lot – achieving levels of dullness unknown anywhere in Europe outside Belgium. The only reason why David Cameron directed Tory MEPs to vote against the AfD is because Angela Merkel told him to.
By happy coincidence, the number of Tory rebels was only just enough to let the AfD in, while simultaneously allowing Cameron to claim that his MEP had (mostly) obeyed orders.
Of course, what he should have done is tell Merkel to get knotted. Yes, the AfD is taking votes from her Christian Democrats, but seeking to sabotage a perfectly respectable rival party is neither Christian nor democratic.
Nor is it very European. The raison d’être of the political groups in the European Parliament is to allow MEPs to sit together on the basis of shared principles, as opposed to shared nationality. The groups are, in fact, a powerful symbol of cross-border co-operation – so for Merkel to impede this process for reasons of purely domestic political interest is hardly communautaire.
Any true Europhile – that is someone who genuinely loves Europe – should celebrate the fact that unashamedly patriotic parties in countries like Britain, Poland, Germany and Greece can find common ground within the ECR.
And if they can’t find it in their hearts to be happy about that, then at least they ought to be pleased that the expanded ECR is making life difficult for UKIP:
“…the ECR strategy appears to involve a concerted effort to strip UKIP’s EFD group of its member parties, leading to the its collapse, depriving them of cash and demolishing their platform. Denying them the DPP, the Finns and AfD as members (assuming AfD would even want to join Farage) is a key part of the strategy – which seems to be working so far.”
As for Angela, she ought to remember that her CDU may one day want to form a coalition with the AfD should the latter make it into the Bundestag. Furthermore, she should regard the ECR parties as allies in the fight for Europe’s long-term economic viability.
In fact, the next time that Dave finds himself in Berlin he ought to pop round to CDU headquarters with an ECR application form.