Neil is Director of Open Europe

The row over the Conservatives’ attempt to form a
new group in the European Parliament is heating up quickly. The current
consensus among most journalists is that the move was a rashly-promised sop to
eurosceptics in the party, which Cameron must surely now regret.

If the Tories want to make a success of the policy,
they will have to turn this consensus around soon.

The main criticism is that the Conservatives might
end up sitting with “extremists”. Most
of this criticism focuses on the Tories possible allies in “Law and Justice”,
the ruling Polish conservative party.

Poland is a
socially conservative and seriously catholic country, where the 1960s only
started happening in the 1990s. As such
it’s no surprise to find that Law and Justice have policies which would be
considered way off colour here. For example, Law and Justice have discussed
banning the promotion of homosexuality in schools and backing the death

So are Law and Justice too hot to handle? It’s
certainly worth putting things in a bit of perspective. For example, Labour currently sit in the
Party of European Socialists with two deputies from the Polish Samoobrona (Self
Defence) party. Their leader Andrzej
Lepper started the party after beating up a tax collector who came to his farm
and has been convicted of five offences including assault.

Lepper has also praised Hitler and made several
anti-semitic comments. He noted that “the
most dangerous nation for the Poles is
the Jewish nation” and said that “Everyone wants what is good for Poland, just like Hitler wanted what was good for Germany.” He even went on to argue that “It was after
the seizure of power by the Nazis in Germany that the number of
unemployed decreased, the economy recovered and the motorways were built.”

Nor are his MEPs much nicer. One
of the MEPs sitting with Labour is Bogdan Golik, a former shipyard owner. Last
Christmas Golik was accused of raping a prostitute. The woman in question seemed to have a good
case, and even showed police
a cellphone belonging to Golik to
back up her claims. However, according to the official Polish Press Agency,
Golik cannot be investigated because of his status as an MEP. When asked to comment on the allegations
Andrzej Lepper laughed in the presence of journalists and asked: "How is
it possible to rape a prostitute?"

Two wrongs don’t make a right, but it’s important
to understand the context. Law and
Justice are trying to “drain the swamp” and change the (rather toxic) Polish
political scene into something more western European. Some Law and Justice strategists are pretty
open about their plans to crush extreme parties like Samoobrona, partly by
hugging them close. They talk about
creating a “fourth Polish republic” with greater stability and less
corruption.  In that respect the Polish centre-right are in a position
very similar to the Spanish centre right in the early 80s. In Spain it took all kinds of
compromises and more than a decade’s work to create a broad mainstream
centre-right party and gradually squeeze out the guilty men of the Franco

However, this rather academic point is likely to be
lost in the heat of the coming row. If
the Conservatives are going to win this argument they will need to raise their
sights and focus on the original point of setting up a new group – the need to
build an alliance to reform the EU. The case for reform should be a neat fit with the
Cameron agenda.  If you back localism in Britain then it
doesn’t make sense to transfer more power to remote EU institutions.

The case for reform is also a powerful moral cause
for my generation. If you want to help
developing countries, obviously you need to look at reforming the organisation
that runs our trade policy and half our aid budget. At the moment the trade policy which the EU
runs in our name imposes extremely high tariffs on some of the world’s poorest
countries. For example the people of Malawi, where
the average income is just 70 pence a day, are forced to pay an EU tax
equivalent to 12% of everything they export to us.

Take another example. Having caused an economic and environmental
catastrophe in our own fishing waters, the EU has just bought fishing rights
from Morocco off the Western Sahara, in clear violation of international
law. Neither the US or the UN recognises the Moroccan invasion of
the Sahara. But that hasn’t stopped the Commission cutting a deal. So much for the ethical foreign policy we
were promised in 1997.

You could go on. You might ask whether it is acceptable that the EU budget hasn’t been signed off for eleven
years. You might ask why the Council of
Ministers is the only legislature in the world outside North Korea to
hold its discussions mainly in secret. You
could ask why the European Commission was recently allowed to reappoint the
head of the anti-fraud agency, despite the fact that all representatives from
all member states voted to replace him, because of his abject failure to clamp
down on corruption. The truth is that
the case for reform is obvious. But
making it happen will require political courage.

Michael Gorbachev recalls in his memoirs that
perestroika had to “crash-through or crash.”  The Tories seem to be in a
similar position in their attempt to create a new group.  Some people hope
to cause David Cameron maximum agony over the attempt to forge a new group, in
order to ensure that the Conservatives say nothing more on Europe for the next three years.  But giving
into this would be a tactical mistake.  Given the number of people itching
to write stories to the effect that the Tories have returned to 1990s-style
euro rows, the Conservatives need to redefine the whole way they tackle “Europe”. The best way to do that is not to shut up, but
to grasp the nettle. That means making
it clear that the new group is the first step in a longer campaign to turn
around a European Union which is currently both failing, and morally bankrupt.


Related article: Daniel Hannan MEP – Leaving the EPP will be truly revolutionary