Thursday 8 July 2010

Small storm in European right's teacup

Kudos to Tory blogger Iain Dale, for offering a blow by blow account and breaking news about important political manouverings on the very margins of the European Union, as the Conservatives wonder whether they can make anything of their troubled European Conservative and Reformists parliamentary grouping.

Dale's reports have clarified the mystery of David Cameron's decision to offer a Downing Street publicity coup to the likely loser of the Polish Presidential election just ahead of the vote. It seems that one goal was to smooth the way to demote Michal Kaminski to "co-chair" of the ECR alliance. Somehow the British Prime Minister does not seem to have yet prevailed in this bid, despite the amount of political capital the British Conservatives spent defending the reputation of their controversial ECR group leader.

Downing Street has now offered this statement:

"We remain completely committed to the success of the ECR group. We are proud to have set it up and proud of its progress so far. As far as the leadership is concerned, clearly it must command the support of the group's members."

Very touching. "Proud of its progress" so far is an amusingly rose-tinted description of the group, since the strange electoral curse of David Cameron has produced a range of political setbacks which makes he future existence of the group a struggle.

It is worth a recap of the range of mighty political forces the Conservatives are allied with in their efforts to influence the decisions of the European Parliament.

The British Conservatives (with 26 MEPs) and the Czech ODS (with 9 MEPs) are proper and major mainstream political parties: both are in government, though they both fell short of their hopes and expectations at the polls this year, with the Czechs losing a third of their Parliamentary seats as they fell behind the Social Democrats.

The third signficant partner are the grizzled authoritarian populists of Poland's Law and Justice party, who have 15 MEPs. Having now lost both the Parliamentary and presidential elections, time to reflect in opposition is likely to lead to an attempt to rehabilitate the party as a more moderate political force, having run a much less angry campaign in last weekend's Polish poll. (Given that Daily Telegraph editorials celebrated the Law and Justice government's defeat noting that their "willingness to pander to xenophobia, their use of state institutions to persecute political opponents and their diplomatic ineptitude repelled many younger voters", it is rather difficult to argue against the case for a little modernisation, particularly to make the party fit for a Cameroonian alliance!)

But that's about all folks.

After that, all that remains are single MEPs from each of five tiny parties: namely, the Hungarian Democratic Forum (whose future political existence is in doubt, following their failure to win any seats in the Hungarian Parliamentary elections); the Flemish populists of the List Dedecker (whose future political existence is in doubt, having won just one seat in the Belgian Parliament); the Dutch Protestant eurosceptics of the small Christian Union (the eighth largest party in the new Dutch Parliament, or indeed the third smallest), and fringe Latvian and Lithuanian parties who have brought rather more trouble than they were worth.

A European Parliamentary Group requires members from seven member states to survive - so the brave ECR experiment may well fail during this Parliament or by the next European elections, or end up on the brink of being held ransom by any of the one-MEP parties, if the Tories can not find new alliances to join this great European adventure.

Though he took Mr Hannan's advice to break free and form the new group, David Cameron now seems to have mixed feelings about this.

He paid quite a heavy price in his dealings with the major centre-right political forces in the European Union, and is now seeking to improve governmental relations with Merkel and Sarkozy. Some in Downing Street consider that a slightly bigger diplomatic prize than continuing with so far failed attempts to lure the Italian separatists of the Lega Nord or other parties into the motley alliance.

And yet the attempt to create this new European force remains an article of faith for his Eurosceptic right, who are already disappointed at the Coalition Agreement effectively stalemating the EU agenda they expected a Tory government to pursue.

Clearly, since the ECR is the fifth largest group in the European Parliament, only just behind the Greens though with considerably less power and influence than the Liberal Democrat alliances, one would expect Downing Street to give a great deal of diplomatic priority to resolving these vital questions of European leadership.

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