On Monday, Conservatives announced that we have achieved the necessary number of MEPs and nationalities to form our new anti-federalist, centre and centre-right mainstream grouping in the European Parliament.
The announcement brings to an end a search that William Hague and I began over three years ago, following the undertaking David Cameron made during his campaign for the Party leadership.
For me, our announcement underlines a vital political point. David Cameron is a man who delivers on his commitments. The contrast with Gordon Brown, especially on Europe, could not be clearer.
We have a great deal to be proud of with this new Group. With 55 MEPs already, we will be the fourth largest group in the Parliament. I am confident that more MEPs will join us in future, some in the relatively near future – Mark Francois and I are continuing to work hard in negotiations on this front.
We will have a number of positions of influence within the parliament. We anticipate the Group will have at least one Vice-President of the parliament and a committee chair. We will have a number of the coordinators (Whips/spokesmen) in the committees, meaning we will be in a strong position to take on some high-profile reports passing through the parliament. We will also sit on the top table of the parliament – the Conference of Presidents – where a number of important decisions are taken about the day-to-day functioning of the institution.
The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR Group) will give the European Parliament something it has never had before: a grouping that is united in its opposition to Euro-federalism and which wants to see the EU do less and do it with greater value and accountability to the voters of the EU. It's no wonder that our opponents in the UK have already begun turning the cogs of their smear machines.
Let me deal first with the suggestion that Conservative MEPs will somehow be 'marginalised' in our new group. I disagree. As one impartial academic commentator has said (Dr Simon Hix, Professor of European Politics at the LSE on the Today programme, 8 June 2009): "the British Conservatives might actually be quite influential out on their own there because they’ll be able to negotiate issue by issue with the EPP."
Moreover, William Hague and I have made very clear that we will continue to work with EPP parties to promote Conservative policies in areas where we agree. For their part, the EPP Group and its Chairman, Joseph Daul, have made equally clear that this is also their wish and intention.
So the allegation that we are now marginalised is clearly nonsense. However, for weeks now, Labour have also been hell-bent on spreading falsehoods about some of our allies even though we have consistently made it clear that we are not prepared to sit with racists or extremists. Take one example of a favourite Labour smear of the last 24 hours: that our Latvian allies attend celebrations of the Waffen SS.
This propaganda campaign was originally used by the Soviets to discredit an independent Latvia. In reality, Latvians were conscripted – under threat of death or imprisonment – into the German Army and sent to fight the Red Army, which had already killed thousands of their compatriots. The Latvian people (including parties that sit with the EPP and the Greens in the parliament) attend ceremonies to commemorate those killed in the Second World War. These smears are an offence to the memories of those Latvians who were given Hobson's choice between fighting the Soviets or being killed by the Nazis.
We have a great deal to be proud of with this new Group. It contains five parties in government, many of which led the fight to throw off the yoke of Communism. And for those who might believe the bunkum that leaving the EPP will diminish our influence over legislation affecting the City should know that we have two former Finance Ministers, including Lajos Bakros, who is widely credited with having saved the Hungarian economy in the mid-1990s.
We have rejected approaches from parties such as the Danish People's Party and the Lega Nord because of their unacceptable views in a number of areas. In passing, I note that it will be interesting to see whether UKIP take a similarly clear line in dealing with extreme parties as they seek to patch together a group for themselves. They should not underestimate the difficulties.
Our ECR group is an important political achievement and has only been possible through the hard work of a number of people. I want to pay tribute to all those who have been involved in these discussions and in searching for new allies. Geoffrey Van Orden has already rightfully been mentioned on this site, but there are others – such as Martin Callanan, Richard Ashworth, Neil Parish, Philip Bradbourn and Sir Robert Atkins, who have assisted me in ensuring the rules, finance and staffing for the Group is all as well-prepared as it could be. And of course, I want to pay particular tribute to Mark Francois and William Hague who, like me, have been working extremely hard to make this Group a success.
May it now go from strength to strength.