Euro Realist

Briefing No 2: March 2006

Meet the new Allies: Alternatives to the EPP-ED Group

Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague visited Brussels in late January to talk to potential allies about putting together a new conservative grouping in the European Parliament. By all accounts, the visit seems to have proved rather frustrating. He found that few, if any, of the parties currently on the market fit the bill of being simultaneously “decentralist, Atlanticist and free-market”, and that nearly all such parties are already in the EPP-ED Group and plan to stay there. In essence, the Conservative leadership at home had been sold a false prospectus, presented by Daniel Hannan MEP and others in the Daily Telegraph, that a range of new allies were “all lined up and raring to go”, when they are not. The Party is now being forced to look at a variety of fringe forces with embarrassing associations that could prove a political liability.

At the moment, the Conservatives sit with 45 other parties in the large EPP-ED Group. This encompasses nearly all the mainstream centre-right political forces in Europe – including Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU, José María Aznar’s Partido Popular, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Carl Bildt’s Swedish conservatives. The EPP-ED Group is by far the largest political grouping in the European Parliament, with 262 (or 37 per cent of) MEPs. To form an alternative group, the Conservatives would need to find allies from four additional nationalities, a threshold that is likely to rise to five next January (with Romanian and Bulgarian enlargement).

In Brussels, Mr Hague is reported to have met the European parliamentary leaders of the principal conservative parties in the Czech Republic and Poland: ODS and Law and Justice. Currently the ODS sit, like the Conservatives, as allied members of the EPP-ED Group. By contrast, Law and Justice are part of the small ‘Union of Europe of the Nations’ (UEN) Group, which also includes the post-fascist Aleanza Nazionale from Italy, and the Irish Fianna Fáil. ODS has nine MEPs and Law and Justice seven.

· ODS: Czech Mate?

The Czech ODS is seriously divided on the question of whether or not to leave the EPP-ED Group. The party leader in Prague, Mirek Topolanek, strongly favours staying in the Group – and has asserted that as the party policy – whilst the European parliamentary chief, Jan Zahradil, favours creating a new grouping in principle, so long as it has substance. Such a group “must not be as marginal as the UEN or the Greens,” the latter said recently. Given the Greens have 42 MEPs in their group, that would appear to rule out a modest alliance of the Tories, ODS and a few dispossessed individuals of various nationalities. Whether anything happens will depend on the outcome of the Czech parliamentary elections in June, and who then enjoys factional dominance within the party. A centre-right victory at the polls would decisively cement the status quo in the European Parliament. The consequences of defeat are less predictable.

· Law and Justice: Poles Apart?

Law and Justice are believed already to have assured their partners in the UEN Group that they intend to stay. If, however, they were interested in teaming up with the British Conservatives, the arrangement could prove highly awkward and embarrassing in London. The media have already identified their strong opposition to gay and minority rights as sitting uneasily with David Cameron’s style of Conservatism.

As mayor of Warsaw, Law and Justice’s Lech Kaczynski – recently elected Polish President – banned gay pride marches in the city two years in a row, declaring them to be “sexually obscene” and that he was opposed to “propagating gay orientation.” The new Law and Justice prime minister, Kasimierz Marcinkiewicz, has apparently described homosexuality as “unnatural”. The President’s twin brother, Jaroslav Kaczynski, leader of the party, has proposed out-lawing gay men from teaching in the schools.

One of the first acts of the new government was to abolish its Office for the Equality of Men and Women, responsible for protecting minority rights. As Amnesty International put it, “it would be a novel definition of modernisation” for the Conservatives under David Cameron to associate with allies of this kind.

The problem goes wider: Law and Justice is no paragon of economic liberalism either. Rather comically, it appointed as Minister for Privatisation someone, Wojciech Jasinski, who favours re-nationalisation. The new government is embroiled in high-profile battles to prevent foreign take-overs in the banking and insurance sectors. The party’s whole philosophy is very much one of the new ‘economic nationalism’.

Other possible partners?

· Dutch Christian fundamentalists and Latvian Nationalists

The Conservative leadership has also been exploring linkages with a variety of other, more marginal forces, in the attempt to bring together the five nationalities required to form a new group. The discussion between Europe spokesman Graham Brady MP and Johannes Blokland MEP, leader of the two-man Christian Union/GSP alliance in the EP, leaked into the press. David Rennie of the Daily Telegraph reported: “Mr Blokland’s alliance, sprung from fundamentalist Protestant churches in Holland, wants abortion and gay marriage to be illegal. The GSP half of his alliance refuses to allow women as full members, and will not let women stand for elected office.” Mr Blokland reminded Mr Rennie that “we start our policies from the Ten Commandments of God” and said that he had told Mr Brady he was not interested in an alliance with the British Tories. “I advised them to scrap plans for a new group, and stay with the largest bloc in the Parliament. … The Conservatives will lose influence if they leave.”

Parallel discussions with the Latvian nationalist LNNK quickly revealed that its MEPs likewise had no interest in leaving their current berth in the UEN to join a new group.

· French and Swedish Eurosceptics

Similar discussions appear to have been held with Patrick Louis MEP, who heads a delegation of four hard-core MPF French Eurosceptics, the rump of the old Jimmy Goldsmith list from 1994. However, their strong support for the CAP, protectionism, and industrial intervention, as well as their general dislike of the United States, make them unlikely allies for British Conservatives. On the recent Services directive, they systematically supported Socialist, Green and far-left amendments designed to emasculate the proposal, and voted against the final text as too liberal.

Another possible ally, the Swedish June List has signalled that its political heart beats firmly on the left. In any case, it is fast disappearing from the political scene, with support at two per cent.

· Irish Independent – Kathy Sinnott

The name of Kathy Sinnott has also featured on the radar screen of peripheral figures with whom a marriage of convenience might be struck. Uncomfortable with her UKIP allies, she has been cited as possible member of a new grouping. Mrs Sinnott comes with awkward political baggage. She has a strong record of voting with the left on economic issues: for example, she backed amendments to emasculate the Services directive, and opposed the final text as too liberal. She also takes a very hard-line stance against abortion, stem-cell research, and (allegedly) divorce. With Mr Blokland and M. Louis, she proposed last year that the UN should pass “an international treaty for a total ban on abortion and euthanasia”.

Given this less than promising range of possible new allies, it is hardly surprising that, in the past, both William Hague and Michael Howard concluded – in 1999 and 2004 – that the EPP-ED Group link was the best alternative available for the Conservatives in the European Parliament. There are very few, if any, serious political parties that want to create a new conservative grouping outside the EPP-ED Group.

Some on the right may feel comfortable with the kind of allies described in this note, but few ‘compassionate Conservatives’ will readily do so. That is one important reason why most Conservative MEPs would prefer to stay as part of the largest political force in the European Parliament – and work to shape Europe’s agenda with our established friends and allies.

This is a contribution to debate and the views expressed are not necessarily representative of Conservative Party policy.

Conservative Group for Europe (CGE): March 2006

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