Tag Archives: European Conservatives and Reformists

The end of the EFD could severely diminish UKIP’s profile

Interesting news as we gather for the start of the new European Parliament mandate.  The Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group, of which UKIP are the biggest party, could be finished.

Being the leader of a political group has been important to UKIP over the last five years as it has given them access more funding from the European Parliament and allowed Nigel Farage a good deal of speaking time in the plenary chamber. UKIP is now facing a real challenge in getting enough MEPs to form a political group in the European Parliament. To do this they need to hold on to MEPs who may already support them and attracting new one.

The rules in the European Parliament state that you need at least 25 MEPs from 7 different member states to form a group. As it stands the EFD have enough MEPs but from only four member states. What’s more, the Tories with their European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group voted to last week to accept applications from a handful of  new parties, including the controversial Danish People’s Party and The Finns, both of which sat in the EFD last term.

What’s more, Marine Le Pen is currently assembling a new far-right coalition that will include Lega Norda, also previously in the EFD. Farage has ruled out forming a coaltion with with Le Pen’s Front National, citing the parties anti-semetic past. Perhaps the bigger consideration for him though would be losing his position at the top of the group to Le Pen.

So we could be seeing less of Farage insulting national and European leaders. Since so many MEPs and their national delegateions seem not to want to do business with UKIP,  Farage could also find his support in the European Parliament greatly dimished.

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ECR Vice-Chair Claims UKIP is Full of “hooligans” and “bar fighters”

This very revealing story comes to this blog via Public Service Europe, who have posted the following on their site:

UKIP is full of “hooligans” and “bar fighters”, alleged a vice president of one of the European Parliament’s political groups on Tuesday. Some of UKIP’s Eurosceptic MEPs “are against everything in the European Union apart from the money and the allowances they get themselves,” according to Derk-Jan Eppink MEP, vice-president of the European Conservatives and Reformists – the group founded when David Cameron’s  Conservative Party MEPs leave the mainstream European People’s Party (EPP).

Talking at a conference organised by the Association of European Journalists, Eppink, a former journalist and one-time European Commission cabinet member, gave UKIP’s Brussels contingent both barrels. It was important for people to know “what they are like”, he claimed. “If they get drunk they get very dangerous,” was one of the allegations he put to a gathering at the Brussels Press Club. “They present themselves as white knights but they are not.” If UKIP MEPs did any work, it was usually “appalling”, he alleged.

British Eurosceptics often did not bother to turn up at committees or parliament plenary sessions. Centre-right parties have on occasion been “one or two votes short of stopping the left” in key votes that were lost because UKIP MEPs were “not there”, it was said. And UKIP was a party of “vox-pop politicians” with “no grassroots support”, Eppink claimed when continuing his diatribe. Eurosceptics took European funding and “funnelled it into their party”, he added, and UKIP’s parliamentary members often flitted between parties or found themselves “investigated”,  he suggested.

Debating Europe with UKIP supporters often turned into an “aggressive” exchange involving “abusive language”, said Eppink. “They are sort of hooligans,” he told the gathering “apart from Nigel Farage” – the UKIP leader. And UKIP supporters and British Eurosceptics in general were “hard to convince with facts and figures”, said Eppink, a Dutchman who has crossed over into Belgian politics. “A positive agenda is very hard to sell,” he said – a problem he predicted would face British Prime Minister David Cameron if and when he campaigns for the UK to remain in the EU ahead of a referendum.

Eppink’s venting of the spleen seemed to have been fuelled in part by what he described as “a very unpleasant dinner” in the UK that descended into a shouting match with a British academic. “I discovered afterwards that he was linked to UKIP,” Eppink said. He often travelled to Britain at the invitation of British Tory MEPs in the ECR group, he said, visiting towns such as Nottingham “where I would never go as a tourist”.

The Tories in the ECR group were almost all in favour of remaining in the 27-member bloc, he claimed; citing both personal contacts and Twitter feeds as evidence. Only Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan was likely to vote for the UK to withdraw, he predicted. Cameron’s Europe speech earlier this month was, in Eppink’s opinion, an attempt to regain ground lost to UKIP.

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Cameron supports changes to the Lisbon Treaty, but where is the promised referendum?

It seems David Cameron is prepared to renege on his election promise to put all changes to EU treaties to a referendum in the UK.

In a speech to the House of Commons following his first meeting of the European Council,  made up of the prime ministers and presidents of the 27 EU Member States, Mr Cameron was full of bravado about not letting any agreement ‘alter member state competences’ .  However, despite quoting Margaret Thatcher,  in reality Cameron is supporting Germany’s desire to make changes to the Lisbon Treaty in the wake of the financial crisis and the problems caused by the situation in Greece.  If these treaty changes are to go forward, where, Mr Cameron, is your treasured referendum? 

David Cameron also supported the EU 2020 Strategy and Millennium Development Goals in his speech to MPs.  I found this a little strange since, as Harriet Harman rightly pointed out in her response, Conservative MEPs have either abstained or voted against these measures in the European Parliament.  Cameron didn’t even have a response, deciding instead, rather pathetically, to say that he would be keeping an eye on the Labour and Lib Dem MEPs.  I wonder what the Tories’ coalition partners made of this.

Following George Osborne’s deeply damaging budget, David Cameron’s antics in Europe add depth and context to the picture of the Coalition Government which is beginning to emerge, an image of a Conservative Party that really does not know what it is doing over some of the most important issues currently facing us.

Part of me almost feels sorry for David Cameron.  He must have been a lonely figure in Brussels last week.  Seeing the leaders of centre right parties from across Europe meeting before the European Council summit in order to discuss strategy, whilst he was left to ‘strategise’ with one far right Polish MEP.  That is price you pay for isolating yourself from the biggest political grouping in European politics (the European Peoples’ Party) and allying yourself with the far-right, eurosceptic fringe.  Sarkozy and Merkel gave an impressive press conference afterwards, detailing the decsions reached in the summit.  Not too long ago, the British Prime Minister would have been standing right beside them.  Not now.

There was a telling moment in the debate in the House of Commons where one of Cameron’s own MPs (William Cash) asked a question regarding the “30 European directives in the pipeline which will deeply affect our financial regulation and economic governance” and questioned how we might regain and retain control over economic issues.  David Cameron could only rather weakly respond that the European Parliament had made things ‘a lot more burdensome’ and that it was ‘not a satisfactory situation’.  Now I happen to think that these financial regulations are necessary, but perhaps Cameron’s political position would be a good deal more ‘satisfactory’ if they could actually engage and influence European politics.  Cameron needs to realise that euroscepticism may win him the support of the back benches, but in Europe he’ll be left standing on the sidelines with the nutters, looking lonely and confused.

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David Cameron’s Friends Commemorate the SS

Sometimes when I write about how extreme the Conservative Party’s friends in Europe are I am doubted. Today’s Independent has an article

Thousands pay tribute to Latvia’s fallen troops

which says

“This year, however, the occasion has put the spotlight on David Cameron’s Conservative Party, which is politically in bed with the event’s backers.”

the article concludes:

“Many Latvian SS veterans insist that they were not party to atrocities. However, Jewish groups point out that Latvian police were recruited by the Germans and took part in the Holocaust. They were responsible for the mass execution of Jews after the Nazi invasion in 1941. These men later willingly joined the Waffen SS. Historians point out that they were involved in a war against so-called “partisans” which almost certainly involved mass shootings.

With all my sympathy for the victims of Communism, the crimes of Communism are simply not the same as the Holocaust. Part of this is fuelled by a desire to deflect attention away from the extensive collaboration with the Nazis during the Second World War,” Mr Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre  said. “They thought they were fighting for Latvia but the real beneficiary of these men’s service and bravery was Nazi Germany.”

Shouldn’t a political party like this be working with the BNP not the British Conservative Party?

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Tory EU U-Turn?

I was, to say the least, surprised to read William Hague’s speech to the Royal United Services Institute this week which outlined the EU’s “enormous importance to the United Kingdom and its foreign policy”.  It was also interesting to note that William Hague went out of his way to wish Catherine Ashton well in her role as EU High Representative.  Perhaps he should have a word in the ear of some of his MEPs, who have been anything but supportive.

Hague’s speech demonstrates that, with a General Election approaching, Tory flip-flops on key policy areas know no bounds.  For the past two years Hague himself has been scrambling around Europe making alliances with unsavoury parties from the fringes of far-right politics in order to create the Tories’ new European Conservatives and Reformists Group in the European Parliament.  In doing so, he seriously undermined the credibility of the Conservative Party in the eyes of key European leaders such as Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, both of whom made known their dismay that the Tory MEPs were being withdrawn from the mainstream centre-right EPP group to which their political parties belonged.

This policy, albeit entirely misguided, has won Cameron and Hague a lot of support from the Tory grassroots, with  ConservativeHome website reporting that 45 of the new Tory candidates for the forthcoming general election listed repatriation of powers from Europe as their top priority.  As regular readers will be aware, we all know how realistic that hope is.

Cameron and Hague are walking a tightrope here.  On the one hand, they have done very well out of EU-bashing with their grass-roots supporters over the past two years.  On the other hand, they have alienated important allies throughout Europe to the detriment of the British national interest. 

William Hague’s speech dripped with hypocrisy and was surely a belated attempt to undo the damage their anti-EU stance has done. 

I doubt that leaders throughout Europe will have such short memories.  And I can only imagine what the new breed of anti-EU Tory candidate makes of this U-turn.

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Edward McMillan-Scott goes for the Jugular

A fascinating piece of Tory anti-propaganda recently weaved its way to me.  Edward McMillan-Scott, expelled from the Conservative Party for standing as an independent candidate and winning one of the posts of Vice-President of the European Parliament, has sent a very angry letter to Westminster Tory MPs.  McMillan-Scott, who violently disagreed with the Tory hierarchy about their decision to leave the centre-right EPP (European Peoples’ Party, the largest political group in the European Parliament), is not letting the matter rest.  His grievances are set out in this letter written on European Parliament headed paper and signed in his unmistakable flamboyant signature.

8 February 2010

Dear Westminster parliamentary colleague,

MY EXPULSION FROM THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY

I am writing to many Conservative MPs (and I am sorry this is not personalised) about the Party’s treatment of a parliamentarian. Despite my restraint with the media, there is a risk of it becoming an issue in the General Election. The reputational damage to the Party is already considerable: Keira Knightley’s contemporary West End Misanthrope  opens with a speech about David Cameron’s ‘grubby fascist friend’. The Party is more important than any individual, but principles trump the Party and I will not let matters rest.

Whatever view you take about David Cameron’s pledge to leave the EPP it has been panned by every commentator, and the choice of EU allies has been controversial.  Putting the Polish MEP Michal Kaminski up for Vice-President was a disastrous choice and would have led to a furore, whether or not I stood against him.  Expelling me from the Party until after the next European Election has been a CCHQ own goal and it is time it was corrected – by politicians.
 
David Cameron may well be unaware of what has been taking place but my numerous attempts to achieve an amicable solution are being systematically blocked by CCHQ.
 
I now urge the parliamentary party to appoint an experienced MP – perhaps a member of the 1922 Executive – to conduct an inquiry and resolve this quickly. 10 Killer Points are below my signature and are expanded in Timeline and Kaminski Uncovered, attached.
The whip was withdrawn from me by Timothy Kirkhope to divert attention from political misjudgements.
However my expulsion from the Party is of another order and must not be
allowed to stand. 
You can take me out of the Conservative Party, but you cannot take the Conservative out of me.   Please let me know if you wish to help or want more information. My private email is xxxxxxxxxxx and my
mobile number is xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. 
Yours, 

P.S. Correspondence and emails I have received are overwhelmingly supportive 

10 Killer Points: Edward McMillan-Scott MEP’s expulsion from the Conservative Party 

1.      I complied with the manifesto, leaving the EPP and joining the new ECR group. I said that I was ‘uncomfortable’ because of moral, constitutional and extremist issues.  I stood against a Polish MEP, Michal Kaminski, and was re-elected Vice-President of the European Parliament with strong cross-party support and NGO support (see http://www.edwardforvp.eu/) on 14 July – see attached Timeline.  This was done on a point of principle because Kaminski had recent and easily-discovered ‘anti-Semitic, homophobic and racist links’ – for some details see attached Kaminski Uncovered 

2.      Kaminski and his party represent the rise of disguised extremism in Europe.  My longstanding concern and action about extremism stems from a family secret since 1940, revealed on BBC Radio 4′s Mother was a
Blackshirt
only 
in January by my aunt, Diana Bailey, that my maternal grandparents were interned by Churchill as senior Blackshirts (please ask for a transcript)
 
3.      Kaminski was not an official Conservative candidate. He was nominated by Timothy Kirkhope, Tory MEP leader, as part of a stitch-up to promote Kirkhope as leader of the new group without election. The Tory MEPs’ rules of procedure for nominations for EP parliamentary posts were ignored. I stood as an independent. Another Conservative stood independently the next day for another parliamentary post (‘Quaestor’ Ways & Means) but no action was taken. Only I lost the whip.
 
4.      My Brussels assistants and I were ‘sent to Coventry’ (this was ignored by Tory MEPs and staff); my UK staff were told to stop working for me by Party officials (they refused); all material carrying my name was to be expunged from constituency offices, invitations to Party functions withdrawn; my conference pass was revoked, a fringe meeting cancelled, among other petty actions. Throughout all this, CCHQ has flagrantly ignored the Party’s constitution, its principles – and its reputation
 
5.      A smear campaign was launched against me, starting with a specious letter which William Hague sent to key Conservatives in my constituency and also issued to the media although he knew that, for legal reasons, I could not reply. Six Conservative Press Officers vilified me to constituency media and the nationals while defending Kaminski. This perverse CCHQ strategy has created an issue on which, I am told, Gordon Brown has achieved electoral ‘cut-through’ on our weakest topic – Europe
 
6.      On September 15, without notice or reason, I was expelled from the Party after an email exchange between Board members. They did not meet. This decision is subject to a prolonged internal CCHQ appeal
procedure in which my lawyers and I have little faith (I was on the Board for three years) and, as a result, may lead to court action.
 
7.      My UK lawyers, the best in their field, say that my expulsion was against natural justice, disproportionate and unconstitutional: they look forward to the High Court
 
8.      The ‘blind pledge’ (signed by all Tory Euro-candidates that they would join whatever EU grouping Cameron devised) is illegal under EU law and my treatment by the Party is contrary to the EU’s ‘Race Directive’
(and the Race Relations Act) 
9.      The Party appears to seek to terminate my parliamentary career (I am 60) – as well as my livelihood -  despite 25 years as an MEP, 4 years as leader of the MEPs, 3 years on the Board and 43 years as a Party member.  I have a reputation for tenacity 

10.  The only other parliamentarians to have been expelled from the Party were Den Dover for two years, after allegedly misusing his MEP expenses; and Lord Archer for five years, after imprisonment for perjury
in the High Court. Who is CCHQ kidding? http://www.emcmillanscott.com/   

Edward McMillan-Scott’s timeline can be found here, and the dossier on Michael Kaminski can be found here.  Both make very interesting and revealing reading and I highly recommended them.

 

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At last we have a European Commission

José Manuel Barroso

Cathy Ashton

Viviane Reding

Joaquín Almunia

Siim Kallas

Neelie Kroes

So we now have a European Commission, a mere eight months after the European elections at the beginning of June last year.  It’s been an interminably long process for no particular reason that is immediately obvious.

Yes, we did have the problems with Mrs Jeleva, Bulgaria’s original nominee for Commissioner who proved to be not up to the job at her European Parliament Committee Hearing and has now been replaced by Kristalina Georgieva.  While this necessitated another hearing, that’s hardly a good reason for the whole business taking eight months.

The fact that the EU moves slowly is hardly news.  More interesting is the decision taken by the ECR (the political group founded and largely made up of British Tories) to abstain when the European Parliament voted to agree the new European Commission yesterday. 

Antonio Tajani

Janez Potočnik

Olli Rehn

Andris Piebalgs

Michel Barnier

Androulla Vassiliou

Abstention seems a cowardly approach, neither one thing or the other.  If you don’t like the new arrangements, have the courage of your convictions and vote against. 

Jan Zahradil who spoke on behalf of the ECR during the debate in the European Parliament didn’t manage to shed much light on their pusillanimous behaviour, saying to Mr Barroso, Commission President,  “In 2005, you came up with the idea of cutting red tape by simplifying legislation. Why not revive this idea now?” He added “If you demonstrate that you’re a reformer, we shall back you, but if you follow well-trodden paths, we shall stand up and resist you”.  If the ECR doesn’t like Barroso, they should, of course, put their money where their mouth is and not hide behind abstaining.

Inevitably there have been criticisms of the way Barroso put together his team of Commissioners and allocated portfolios.  I have to say I am not at all happy with the way portfolios do not correspond to the work of European Parliament Committees.  For instance, on the Culture and Education Committee we have Mrs. Vassiliou as our main Commissioner covering education, culture, multilingualism and youth.  However we also have to deal with Neelie Kroes on the digital agenda and Vivian Reding for some of the wider communication brief including media pluralism.  This lack of alignment of portfolios to Committee responsibilities will, I believe, have the effect of weakening European Parliament Committees in their dealings with Commissioners, i.e. Barroso will stand a better chance of getting his agenda through.

President Barroso’s leadership style has, in fact, caused much consternation.  The Green Group put forward a motion, which was subsequently rejected, to the plenary session on the European Parliament yesterday.  I did, however, agree with some of it, notably its statement that Mr Barroso has weakened the position of individual Commissioners-designate by implementing a policy of divide and rule i.e. by defining and allocating portfolios without proper consideration for their abilities and affinities, and has even moved Commissioners away from portfolios in which, to date, they have demonstrated their competence.  This policy has arguably led, inter alia, to the resignation of one of the nominees.

The resolution went on to note that Mr Barroso has reshuffled portfolios within the Commission in a such a way that there is no clear division of responsibility in some key areas, thus confirming the trend towards a presidential model for the Commission, with the risk that the role of individual Commissioners may be reduced to that of advisors to the President, a state of affairs at odds with the spirit of the Treaties.  You may at this point be forgiven for thinking that Mr Barroso is seeking to become the real President rather than one of equal status to the EU’s other four presidents.

Meanwhile, here is the new European Commission as approved by the European Parliament yesterday.

Maroš Šefčovič

Dacian Cioloş

Kristalina Georgieva

Cecilia Malmström

Johannes Hahn

László Andor

Stefan Füle

Connie Hedegaard

Günther Oettinger

Maria Damanaki

Janusz Lewandowski

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn

John Dalli

Karel De Gucht

Algirdas Semeta

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