Daniel Hannan is an MEP for the South East and blogs at Telegraph.co.uk.
Some of you may find this hard to believe, but I’m going to miss Christopher Beazley. The pro-euro MEP has decided not to seek re-nomination – mainly, he says, because he disagrees with the Conservative Party’s commitment to leave the European People’s Party (EPP) in 2009 and form a new, anti-federalist group in the European Parliament. All Euro-candidates have been asked to sign a statement in support of party policy. A lesser man might have held his nose and signed, or signed with his fingers crossed behind his back; but Chris has behaved with edifying principle. Heaven knows he and I have disagreed over the years. But he has never sought to disguise opinions which he knows to be unpopular with his constituents. Not every politician can make the same boast.
Now is a good moment to remind ourselves of why David Cameron has promised to leave the EPP, and why candidates are being asked to support him.
(1) The European Parliament lacks an Official Opposition
At present, every political alliance in Europe – the Communists, the Socialists, the Liberals, the Greens, the Christian Democrats – supports the euro, the constitution, a common foreign policy and an EU criminal justice system. Indeed, the EPP goes further than the others, demanding a single EU seat at the United Nations, a European army and police force and – my particular favourite, this – a pan-EU income tax to be levied by MEPs. Once there is a mainstream conservative bloc positing a different kind of Europe, the cartel will be broken. From that moment, Euro-federalism will cease to be inevitable, and become one among a series of competing ideas.
(2) Our message must be consistent
“I want Conservatives to be saying the same thing in Westminster, in
Brussels and in Strasbourg,” says David Cameron. Spot on. In the past
we have suffered electorally – especially at the 2004 European
Election, when we got our worst share of the vote since 1832 – because
we were thought to be dissembling. We fought Euro-sceptic campaigns in
Britain and then, when elected, we scuttled off and sat with the most
integrationist group in the chamber.
(3) An independent group will control its own resources
Every political group in the European Parliament receives millions of
euros for political activism. Some of this money is passed on to the
national parties to allocate as they wish; but a good deal is held back
to spend on pan-European campaigns. So what does the EPP spend our
money on? You guessed it: campaigns to promote the European
Constitution, the Common Agricultural Policy, the Charter of
Fundamental Rights and so on. A chunk of money – the money to which
Tory MEPs ought to have been entitled – was spent in support of “Yes”
campaigners when Sweden voted on the euro. Outside the EPP, we’d be
free to create a campaigning machine to promote a completely different
vision of Europe: one based on free markets, national independence and
the Atlantic Alliance. This, of course, is what the other side fears.
(4) Leaving the EPP will put Conservatives in the mainstream
Nothing – nothing – could be further from the truth
than the idea that the only parties outside the EPP are far-Right. The
persistence of the notion that “Tory MEPs may end up with Italian
fascists” is one of the most successful pieces of black propaganda I’ve
ever encountered. No one has ever proposed such a thing and, for what
it’s worth, the party that is descended from Mussolini’s, the Alleanza
Nazionale, is currently applying to join the EPP. Nor does anyone deny
that there were enough respectable parties to form a new group two
years ago. This time, there are several more parties in play, including
from Romania and Bulgaria, as well as others that have become
uncomfortable with their existing affiliations. Giles Chichester, the
new Tory leader in Brussels, has appointed Geoffrey Van Orden to help
put the new configuration in place. The Brigadier is a Euro-sceptic of
the most respectable and moderate sort, liked across the Parliament,
and he is confident that the numbers add up.
(5) We mustn’t sit with extremists
Let’s look at some of the supposedly far-Right parties, shall we? Some
do, admittedly, say unpleasant things. One of our potential allies, for
example, ran election posters showing a gay couple with the slogan
“Daddy and Papa? Say No!” Another has had hundreds of its MPs and
councillors convicted in fraud cases. A third campaigned against the
immigration of some computer programmers from India under the slogan
“Children Before Indians”. But here’s the thing: all three of
these parties are currently in the EPP. They are,
respectively, Forza Italia, the French UMP and the German CDU. High
time we found some more moderate partners, I’d say.
(6) British leadership in Europe
Don’t just think of it as leaving the EPP. Think of it as what it
really is: leading the crusade for reform in Europe. Let me quote David
“I want to apply the modernising approach that I am bringing to the
Conservative Party to our approach to Europe. I want us to be the
champions of change, optimism and hope in Europe as well as Britain. It
is time for a Europe not of deals but of ideals. So we say to the
moderate mainstream, who are not satisfied with the EU as it is today:
come and join us – we have a future to fight for.” Hard to disagree, no?
(7) Conservatives keep their word
There are not many things an Opposition can do. There are plenty of
things it can promise that it would do if it were in
power, but precious few it can deliver in the mean time. This is one of
them. We need to convince people that we mean what we say, so that when
we promise to improve schools, cut taxes, or decentralise power, they
have cause to believe us.