By Paul Goodman
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I wrote yesterday evening about William Hague's apocalyptic warning at the conference of the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (AECR) that "The jobs and the life savings of tens of millions of people in Europe may be at stake."
And promised in doing so to write an account of the rest of the conference, which I will divide into a brief mix of reporting and comment. It took place in London and those present were welcomed by Jan Zahradil, the AECR's President. Zahradil is a member of the Czech Civic Democratic Party (CDS).
- Sayeeda Warsi opened the conference, the Foreign Secretary's speech followed hers, and David Lidington spoke later during the afternoon.
- Senator Alexandr Vondra, the Czech Minister of Defence and Deputy Chairman of the CDS, also addressed the event, as did Bjarni Benediktsson MP, the Chairman of the Icelandic Independence Party.
- There were two panel discussions. The first was called "The root causes of Europe's financial crisis", and starred Professor Pedro Schwartz, Dr Eamonn Butler of the Adam Smith Institute and Mats Persson of Open Europe. The second was titled "The route out of the Economic Financial Crisis," and the panel members were Professor Roland Vaubel, Professor Tryggvi Thor Herbertsson MP, Althingi (a member of the Icelandic Independence Party), and Dr Peter Osusky MP, the Vice-Chairman of OKS (Slovakia's Civic Conservative Party).
- I won't attempt to sum up the sweeping range of the two discussions, but readers won't be surprised to hear that the first panel occasionally looked forward to the route out of the economic financial crisis and that the second sometimes looked back to its root causes. None showed enthusiasm for the Euro, higher spending, tax rises, deficits, fiscal transfers (though Persson suggested that greater fiscal integration might be carried off), or ever-closer union as understood by the EU's governing elites.
- All EU countries represented at the conference bar Britain and Denmark are formally committed to joining the Euro. I once again detected no dash to sign up swiftly, but wasn't present at the AECR dinner in the evening (which was addressed by Mikheil Saakashvili, the President of Georgia), so I didn't get a chance to quiz MEPs and others on the matter. Among the MEPs present were Britain's Martin Callanan, the leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament and Syed Kamall.
- Not so long ago, the Conservative Group in the European Parliament was solidly Euro-enthusiast: Caroline Jackson, Edward MacMillan-Scott, Bill Newton-Dunn, Caroline Jackson, Tom Spencer and John Stevens were all members. Once again, I was struck yesterday by an apparently unlikely turnaround – namely, that the leadership of the Conservative Group of MEPs in Brussels is more Euro-sceptic in flavour than that of the party as a whole.
- The AECR now contains members from the Czech Republic, Poland, Belgium, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Slovak Republic and Denmark. It is a pan-European umbrella organisation for centre-right parties (which explains the presence of those from Iceland), and its goal is "to create a family of like-minded parties dedicated to true subsidiarity and a European Union of sovereign nation states". It works alongside the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) in the European Parliament.
- I quote Hague again: "I always say this at these occasions but I say it because I mean it: it gives me huge satisfaction to see the members of this Alliance we have established together gathered to debate how we achieve the many goals we share in common. It is an enormous relief not to be at some meeting of the EPP, having to debate an agenda I fundamentally disagree with, but with friends I fundamentally do agree with."
- Daniel Hannan is the Secretary-General of the AECR.