Conservative candidates in the European elections in June 2009 are being required to sign up to the following pledge:
"I hereby agree that if I am elected, I will respect the agreement made by David Cameron and Mirek Topolanek in July 2006, "that at the commencement of the next legislature period of the European Parliament , following the elections in 2009 our delegations will establish a new parliamentary group, which other like-minded parties will be invited to join", and that I will become a member of whichever political group in the European Parliament is decided upon by the Party Leader, in consultation with the leader of the Conservative MEPs, after the 2009 European elections"
I, and probably most Conservative MEPs, believe that the search for "other like minded parties" has already proved to be a hopeless one, and that further rooting about in the political undergrowth of Eastern Europe in particular demeans our party and will prove fruitless. However I see the "pledge" as providing, perhaps by design, a useful way out of this mess for David Cameron, and a means of the Conservatives eventually staying in the safe harbour of the EPP if that is what the "party leader, in consultation with the leader of the Conservative MEPs" decides.
The position of the Conservative MEPs in the European Parliament has never been a particularly happy or settled one. British Conservative economic liberalism and individualism, our hostility to European paternalist social policies and to Euro-federalism, and our propensity for the cold shower of "common sense" solutions, mean that we sit uneasily with the most important parties of the European centre right.
Initially (1973-1992) we sat virtually alone, in a grouplet with Danes
and Spaniards – who then left to join the EPP. Since 1992 we have been
in the EPP orbit, now as members of the "European Democrats" along with
the Czech ODS party, sitting as allied members of the "EPP-ED" group,
not full members. This means we have our own manifesto, and can
circulate our own whips on any issue. As allied members of the EPP we
can use their weight to obtain certain positions in the Parliament (and
committee chairmanships do matter in a Parliament that possesses real
The search for another alternative, non Euro-federal, home has now been
going on for 18 months, without any obvious successes. Crucially, we
will need to find a minimum of 6 other parties to join us if we are to
form another group We have formed the "movement for European Reform" as
a sort of waiting room for an alternative group but applicants are not
battering the door down. Now it seems that even the Czechs will soon
join the EPP as full members. Beyond them lie the Untouchables of the
far Right, or the Unthinkable, if we were to sit as Non-attached
Members on the outer rim of the Parliament, with no influence at all.
Recently Geoffrey Van Orden MEP found a Bulgarian party, the Union of
Democratic Forces, as a possible new ally – but they failed to get
anyone elected in their first European elections. Giles Chichester, the
new Tory leader, has sent Geoffrey forth once more to scour a bleak and
barren landscape. There is no news of him.
The sad thing
about all this is that there is a European Reform agenda waiting for
the Conservatives to pick up. A campaign for better follow up and implementation
of existing Euro laws, for a closer and more meaningful relationship
with national parliaments, for less intrusive EU law, – and if we
advocated this from within the EPP, we would find powerful allies (including
not just the Swedish moderates, but also the CDU-CSU) and we would be
leading an important campaign. As things stand informed observers, here
and abroad, must be asking how, in power, Cameron will sell any of his
ideas, on the environment or anything else, as Prime Minister from a
position on the sidelines of Europe.
expect us, eventually, to be able to campaign for such reform from within
the EPP but not before, for one last time, we have gone through
the agonies of the hopeless quest for alternatives. This is surely an
episode which David Cameron, as Prime Minister, will want to forget.