The dust has barely settled after his leadership victory and David Cameron has already walked into a storm on that old issue that has blighted the Tories for so long: Europe. Prior to his victory, Cameron had pledged to withdraw the Tory MEPs from the European People’s Party / European Democrats (EPP-ED) group in the European Parliament. The UK press has actually got about as excited about this as it ever would about an EU politics issue – see these articles from the FT, BBC and The Times.
From the outside (i.e. for Cameron, the UK press etc.) the issue looks very clear cut. The EPP has plenty of pro-European (and dare I say it quasi-federalist) MEPs in it, and the UK Conservatives have always had an uneasy relationship with the group.
But see it from the other side – from within the European Parliament – and matters are very different. If the UK Tory MEPs left the EPP-ED and perhaps took the Czech ODS MEPs (see this from the Prague Monitor) with them, and maybe the Polish Law & Justice party too, suddenly the EPP would lose its position as the largest political group. The Party of European Socialists would be rubbing their hands with glee. Further, the political roles that the Tories have thanks to the way Committee chairmenships etc. are chosen would mean their position would be very much weakened. Further, Timothy Kirkhope has just been re-elected as leader of the Tory MEPs, and he favours staying in the EPP-ED.
So Cameron is stuck between a rock and a hard place. What a shame!
[Updated – 08.12.2005]
This story seems to rumble on… The Euroreferendum blog has written a piece about this issue where – at last – someone has realised that it bolis down to money! Well, only they have the wrong end of the stick. Resources in the European Parliament are allocated to political groups, and the problem for the UK Conservatives is that you need MEPs from 5 member states to constitute a group. Without that you very little cash… So the Tories on their own would for sure lose. After all, the UKIP MEPs are actually in a proper group – the ant-Euro mad people group – and hence get cash. And then there’s the issue of political influence… How many committee chairmanships does the UKIP group have? None. So their financial calculations are wide of the mark, and clearly they have ignored the politics. Keep it up Cameron! All the better for those of us on the centre-left!
Richard Corbett has assembled an excellent list of quotes from Tory MEPs who are vehemently opposed to Cameron’s plan – read these here.