Martin Callanan MEP is Chairman of the European Conservatives.
Follow the ECR Group on Twitter.
Before every summit the major political families hold a meeting to discuss their perspectives, prepare strategy, and to give parties that may not be in government an opportunity to make their voices heard in front of those around the Council table.
We decided that the European Conservatives and Reformists group was now sufficiently established to start holding our own family gathering before yesterday's EU summit. Our two Prime Ministers make up the third most powerful voting block in the European Council, and they were joined by leaders of our parties in Italy, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Latvia, Belgium, Slovakia, Georgia, Poland and the Netherlands.
We had arranged for the Prime Ministers to give a 'doorstep' statement to the cameras as they went in to the meeting and arranged a press pen. Cameras from stations right across the EU turned out in force and we were delighted by the interest in our meeting.
After a short bilateral meeting between Prime Ministers Cameron and Necas of the Czech Republic, we moved to the main meeting room where I opened the meeting and every Party leader was given an opportunity to speak. The discussion was particularly informative and I think buoyed our Prime Ministers ahead of the summit. For the first time, here was a European meeting that was praising Margaret Thatcher, talking about less and better Europe rather than more, seeking common sense solutions instead of ideological ones, and arguing for taxpayer value. It was a breath of fresh air.
At the meeting we adopted a communique on the euro crisis, Europe's competitiveness, its neighbourhood, and the future development of the ECR itself. You can read it here.
Following the meeting we held a family photograph and our Prime Minister held some bilateral meetings. We were also pleased to be joined by Bart De Wever, the newly-elected Mayor of Antwerp and leader of Belgium's largest Party. Bart's Party is not a member of the ECR but we share a number of common viewpoints on European-related matters such as the need for open markets and fiscal discipline, and it is always good to hear from him. As Bart left, the international media scrum had been replaced by a mostly Belgian media scrum, and Bart gave them some good sound bites.
After the meeting I attended the council and did a walk through the press room (one of the privileges of being a group leader is that you get accreditation for the summit). The general consensus was that this would be a very low-key summit with little of substance to report. Alas, they were right. The only noticeable result was that progress went backwards slightly, with an expected date of implementation of the Banking Union proposals being changed to a vague expected date of agreement. The actions of the ECB and the result of the June summit opened the pressure valve and bought our leaders a bit of time. It's a shame that they seem to be squandering it, unable to take any tough decisions.
Regardless, yesterday was a good day for the ECR. These events are as much about pageantry as they are about substance, and we certainly put on a good show. Of course, we're a new group and it takes time to build a political family. However, what we have shown is that we're established, and we're growing – tapping into the growing public desire for fundamental reform of the EU.