As we come to the end of the May Strasbourg plenary session of the European Parliament, I ask myself, “What difference has the change in government UK made?” and more specifically, “Looking at the European Parliament, would you know the Tories and Lib-Dems are in a coalition at home?”
Although we may live in interesting times in Britain, here in the EU so far it’s business as usual. The Tory ECR Group, those Nick Clegg described as a bunch of nutters, maintain their vigorously anti-EU stance. It always amazes me that the Tories stick so rigorously to their bonkers policy of voting against or abstaining on all reports in front of the European Parliament. As a result they vote, for example, against making rape in marriage an offence. Whatever you may think about the EU and the European Parliament, surely this is a ludicrous way to behave – I don’t like you so I’m going to go against everything, yes every single thing, you do.
The political group to which the Lib-Dems belong, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), couldn’t be more different. As their name suggests, they’re pro-Europe for a start. They are also staggeringly undisciplined. Most of the political groups, including the Socialists and Democrats, expect their members to follow the Group whip when voting in the plenary session and in parliamentary committees. As I understand it the ALDE has a much looser arrangement and members more or less do their own thing.
It really is a question of never the twain shall meet. I don’t see how it’s possible to have Con-Dems in Europe, and neither, from what we have seen this week, do the two protagonists.
And yes, all of this does matter. During my10 years as an MEP from the government party, I and my Labour colleagues were expected to follow the government line. If you think about it, this makes sense. The British government, whatever its colour, whether it’s one or two, doesn’t want to clash with the EU more often than necessary and wants European legislation as close to its own point of view as possible. Obvious, if you ask me, a no-brainer, to use the current parlance.
How then will the Con-Dem coalition cope with Europe? Not only do the two parties have diametrically opposed views on the EU, they haven’t so far made any attempt to come together in any sort of joint arrangement on European legislation.
If I were feeling uncharitable, I would say Europe, both theoretically and practically, will Con-Dem Cam/Clegg to disaster. It’s just a question of when.