The closer the European Parliament elections, the sneakier the stratagems of British centre-right politicians and activists in Brussels.
As David Cameron made clear on May 18 when he launched the election campaign of his opposition Conservative party, the Tories are poised to leave the mainstream European People’s Party-European Democrats (EPP-ED) group soon after the vote. They plan to set up a new centre-right group in the EU legislature that would be strongly opposed to more EU political and economic integration.
Among their likely allies in this new group are the Czech Civic Democrats, Poland’s Law and Justice party, and a few smaller parties from both old and new EU member-states. All in all, Cameron’s group may number up to 65 MEPs, making it perhaps the fourth largest in the future legislature, according to Jan Zahradil, a Czech Civic Democrat who sits in the EU assembly.
For the purposes of this blog, you need to know that Law and Justice is a party whose initials, spelt in Polish, are PiS. This explains why a document emanating from EPP-ED circles, and attacking Cameron and the Tories for planning to break ranks, carries the malicious headline: “Cameron’s Polish Six-Pack: ’PiS Artists’ or serious allies?”
The document goes on to denounce six Law and Justice candidates for the European parliament as weirdos and extremists, the sort of fruitcakes with whom a decent, modernising sort of leader like Cameron shouldn’t even be dreaming of forming an alliance. The six in question are Urszula Krupa, Jacek Kurski, Miroslaw Piotrowski, Ryszard Czarnecki, Ryszard Legutko and Zbigniew Ziobro.
The document sums up its case as follows: “The key problem David Cameron faces is that the party of Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski is a deeply unattractive ally – and a quite unnatural bedfellow – for the ‘progressive Conservatism’ that the Tory leader seeks to present. Law and Justice, from the top down, has shown itself to be a hardline, socially conservative force, opposed to gay and minority rights – and its economic policies are as illiberal as its social ones. Overall, its views on a wide range of issues sit uneasily with Mr Cameron’s modern style of Conservatism.”
Now, the author of this document – who is obviously a Brit, because the ‘Pis Artists’ joke doesn’t work except in English – may or may not be right to accuse the six Polish candidates of holding unusual or even extreme opinions. But the real message from this smear campaign is that British Tories in Europe remain as divided as ever.
Some understand all too clearly that to withdraw from the EPP-ED will mean to lose influence in the European Parliament and across the wider international stage. Others insist the Tories should never have been aligned with the mainstream centre-right parties in France, Germany and elsewhere in the first place, because the Continentals are far too keen on closer EU integration.
A third group of Tories, possibly the largest, simply want to do whatever their leader wants and focus on the benefits that will come from winning the big prize – the next UK general election. These are serious divisions and will not be easily laid to rest through the mere act of splitting from the EPP-ED.
Still, far be it from me to echo the anonymous writer of the EPP document – and suggest that the Tories are incapable of organising a PiS-up in a European brewery.