Martin Callanan MEP is Chairman of the European Conservatives. This is his monthly letter to ConHome readers.
2013 was a seminal year in the EU. A year ago the Conservative Party did not have a clear agenda for the future of the EU. Our Prime Minister was facing defeat on the EU budget; and moves to strengthen the Eurozone risked dragging the UK into a banking union that could undermine our financial services industry and leave our taxpayers facing the prospect of bailing out a currency we chose not to join.
A year later, we have a clearer agenda, culminating in a referendum. We’ve cut the budget. And we have the necessary safeguards for the City that protect British taxpayers and banks from Eurozone integration.
Labour would have talked a tough talk at home and then succumbed to Brussels. Conservatives maintain the same message wherever we happen to be. It brought victories that Labour would not have delivered. And all of these victories have only been made possible due to a Conservative Prime Minister working together with a strong team of Conservative MEPs.
Without either of these two components, none of this would have been possible. Nor would the other achievements in 2013, such as:
- Whole scale fisheries reform;
- Protecting our oil and gas platforms from knee jerk regulation;
- New free trade deals (and the opening of trade talks with the USA);
- Protecting shale gas exploration;
- Stopping an EU Financial Transactions Tax in the UK;
- Rejecting interference in our maternity laws carrying a £2.5 billion cost to British business, and the ongoing fight against ridiculous EU red tape affecting everything from hairdressers to olive oil dipping bowls.
David Cameron’s speech in January kick-started a wider debate across Europe. Suddenly it became fashionable to talk about reform in the EU. The prospect of Britain leaving makes many people shake with fear in the corridors of Brussels; and some who salivate at the prospect of losing Europe’s bastion of open markets and hard-nosed realism. It has become palpable how much the latter has turned up the anti-British rhetoric.
We are in a strong position to deliver reform. The task for the Conservative Party this year is to begin spelling out in detail the specific reforms they want to achieve.
But before that, we have important elections in May. The only way to deliver both major reform and a referendum is with a strong team of Conservative MEPs in Brussels, and a Conservative government in Westminster. Lending a vote to anyone else will increase Britain’s defeats in Brussels, and the likelihood of Ed Miliband in Number 10 – instead of the man who delivered the first EU budget cut in history, who vetoed a treaty, and who protected our taxpayers from bailing out the euro.
We also need a strong Conservative delegation in the European Conservatives and Reformists group. This May will mark the new group’s fifth anniversary. In the face of adversity, attacks and smears from across the spectrum, we have established the group as the focal point for radical reform across the EU. We have grown, and we will continue to grow in May, with new members coming from across the centre and centre-right. The ECR is often referred to as ‘David Cameron’s grouping’ yet we contain parties and MEPs from 11 countries, with many major parties members or potential members of the alliance. We’re the official opposition to further EU integration and we are an essential platform through which we can deliver the reform agenda that the PM has set out.
So if 2013 was a seminal moment in kick-starting EU reform, 2014 must be the year of two halves: the first half will be dedicated to building a strong team of Conservative and ECR MEPs. The second half will be dedicated to forming our blueprint for change, ready to take that agenda to the people in 2015. Working together – Conservative MEPs and Conservative Ministers – we can deliver the whole scale reforms Britain needs in Europe, and then let the British people decide on that new settlement in a referendum.