As predicted, the Tories are starting to feel the full consequences of David Cameron’s withdrawal from the mainstream centre-right group in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP). Though I thought the days of reckoning would start sooner, it’s all now catching up with the British Conservatives. As a result of his ill-advised move to leave the EPP, a pledge made solely to further his ambition to lead the Tory Party, David Cameron has had no choice but to use force (metaphorically speaking) against his local government representatives in the Committee of the Regions (CoR) to make them leave the mainstream EPP Group against their collective will and sit on their own.
Last week, the Tories in the CoR, a consultative body made up of councillors and other elected members from regional and local authorities across Europe, sensibly struck a deal to remain within the EPP, despite the withdrawal of the Tory MEPs from the Group. (Parties in the CoR are organised in the same political groupings as the European Parliament). Being part of one of the mainstream Groups obviously has important advantages in terms of funding and influence, as Tory MEPs are now finding. The Tory leader in the CoR, Gordon Keymer, explaining the deal, said that “if a member does not belong to a political group it is much more difficult to work effectively” and “the staff in the political group offices are crucial to the success of members of the Committee of the Regions and have helped me immensely in my work.”
Cameron has now run roughshod over this pragmatic agreement and seemingly forced Kaymer and his colleagues to leave the EPP and sit on their own.
As a substitute member on the European Parliament’s Regional Affairs Committee, I am fully aware of the important role that the Committee of the Regions plays in ensuring that local regions have a strong influence on EU policy. Cameron’s move will hugely diminish the ability of regions in the UK represented by Tory councillors to influence European proposals.
The only alternative seemingly open to the Tories is to copy their MEP colleagues and open negotiations with more dubious individuals from the fringes of European politics with a view to creating a new Group. But as the Tories should now realise, alliances with such people do little to enhance credibility or clout on the European stage. Given how difficult the Tories found it to form the ECR in the European Parliament, it would probably be impossible to do the same in the Committee of the Regions. Thanks to David Cameron their only long term option is isolation.
David Cameron has yet to justify his move, and I will be interested to see how he can possibly do so. Make no mistake, this is another act of political posturing by Cameron which shows he has no regard for the views of members of his own party, or for the best interests of the regions, communities and the British people represented in Europe.