Europe Without Greece in Unthinkable

Labour Party

Speaking in the debate following Alexis Tsipras’ address to the European Parliament, Gianni Pittella, Leader of the Socialist and Democrat Group, made it clear that Greece must not leave the European Union.

Despite the rare political firestorm which followed his speech, the Greek Prime Minister was generally in a relatively conciliatory mood. Once his ritual moan about the state of Greece – public debt at 180 per cent with increased poverty and unemployment – he conceded the need for reform

Tsipras demanded an agreement which would allow Greece to exit from its present crisis. He told the European Parliament that reform was required and that such reform should be credible and necessary.

Such realism was, indeed, sorely needed following the start of the Greek PM’s speech when he warned against Greek migrants leaving their country for other parts of Europe and referred to Greece as an “austerity laboratory”.

There were, inevitably, other references to the Greece’s financial and social state. Later on the Tsipras talked about the 7.2 billion euros disbursement and the requirement to pay back 17.5 billion euros. The past five years, he said, had been a huge burden on the Greek people

Yet there was a very real upside. As Gianni Pittella said in his intervention: “The conditions are there for an agreement this week”. Proposals from the Greek government had been submitted yesterday. While Greece rightly wants growth and sustainability, they now appear to be willing to enter constructive negotiations which will, hopefully, have at their heart restructuring the debt, support for Labour and measures against tax evasion. Jean-Claude Juncker has, in fact, showed considerable tenacity in moving Greece towards an agreement

Tsipras embraced the need to deal with tax evasion and corruption. Like a true Communist he blamed both what he called the oligarchs and, of course, previous Greek governments. In all fairness he does have a point if the statistic that 10 per cent of Greeks own 56 per cent of the national wealth is correct

Unsurprisingly Tsipras claimed that, following the referendum, the Greek government had a mandate from the Greek people. However, this is open to dispute. A hastily called plebiscite without time for all points of view to be heard may be not be a very democratic option according to Peter Kellner.

Unusually the European Parliament erupted in the debate after the Greek PM had spoken. Manfred Weber, Leader of the centre-right European People’s Party, accused Tsipras of not telling the truth to the Greek people and destroying confidence in Europe.

In the absence of the ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists) Leader British Conservative Sayed Kamall, his stand-in Mr Legutko said there was something rotten in the state of Greece with the European Union reaping the sour fruits of the original sin of currency union. Legutko’s contrived points only go to show that the ECR and the Tories  care more about their dogmatic views on the European Union than the need to find a workable settlement in Greece

“More Trouble for Tory Euro Grouping as Kirkhope Launches Takeover Bid” says Iain Dale

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I have never before reprinted one of Iain Dale’s posts in its entirety.  However, this story is so good, I thought you may like to see it here. 

“EXCLUSIVE: More Trouble for Tory Euro Grouping as Kirkhope Launches Takeover Bid

Iain Dale 4:36 PM

It seems that the row about the new Conservative grouping in the European Parliament is about to flare up again. Here’s the story so far.

Last week David Cameron held a meeting at Number Ten with the Polish presidential candidate, Jaroslaw Kaczynski and the leader of the Conservatives & Reformist group in the European Parliament, Michal Kaminski. Kaminski was rather surprised to find that the leader of Conservative MEPs, Timothy Kirkhope also turned up. It soon became clear as to why. After Kaczynski left, Cameron told Kaminski that he wanted him and Kirkhope to have a joint chairmanship of the Reformist Group for the next five years. Kaminski was, according to one source, left “gobsmacked”.

Yesterday afternoon Kirkhope reported these events back to the group’s MEP members in Strasburg. One source said there was “uproar”. Another said that “uproar” may be putting it too strongly but “people aren’t very happy – it’s supposed to be a democratic process”.

It’s not just many British (Conservative) MEPs who aren’t very happy. The MEPs of the other 6 countries in the group are none too pleased that they only found out an hour before the meeting. Indeed, the Czechs – important players – have not been consulted at all, I am told.

There are two schools of thought about these events. Conspiracy theorists think David Cameron might want to break up the group, having been embarrassed by all the press coverage over the last year, and thought this was a good way to do it.

The other, and I have to say, more likely explanation is that the whole thing was Kirkhope’s brainwave and that he has tried to bounce himself into the co-chairmanship of the group having stood aside in Kaminski’s favour last year.

The reason I say that is because a source tells me that Cameron’s office is maintaining that they had been assured by Kirhope that the whole thing had been agreed by all parties in Brussels beforehand, and everyone was onside as it would give the group a broader appeal as it tried to attract new members. There is something in that, but it is completely untrue that it had even been floated in Brussels, let alone agreed.

Unfortunately, it is all now beginning to backfire on Brother Kirkhope.

The Czech President is said to be about to phone David Cameron to clarify who said what and to whom and when, although Kirkhope is still maintaining that he had squared off the Czech PM some time ago, but he (the Czech PM) had failed to inform his MEPs.

There is another fly in the ointment for Kirkhope. Under the Reformist’s group’s own rules, there is no provision for a dual leadership. The rules state there has to be a single leader, so it is entirely possible that the group’s MEP members could rule the move ultra vires.

I’ve put this to Number Ten and am awaiting a response.”

Thank you Iain for breaking this story.  I’m sure my Labour and Socialist and Democrat Group colleagues will follow it with interest.

Cameron further weakens Tory influence in Europe

Labour Party

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.

The Tories cannot overcome their problems with Europe

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You will remember that on Friday I posted a report on the Tripartite Lords, Commons and European Parliament meeting held the day before.  I deliberately didn’t mention any of the names of those present, but nevertheless tried to give a rounded account of what transpired.

One thing I didn’t mention and decided to leave for later was a very significant comment by one of the Lords present.  He (all except one of the peers present were male) made the obvious and strikingly simple point that were the Tories ever to form a government they would have to engage with the European Union. Britain is, after all, a fully paid up member and has been for over 30 years.

Were there to be a Conservative government, they would have no option other that to take part in the Council of Ministers.  Government Ministers would have to go to the Council Ministerial meetings. If they failed to attend Britain would be left completely out in the cold.  Not going to Council meetings would mean the government could not stand up for Britain’s interests, surely a very grave dereliction of duty.  Again, I am not going to divulge the name of the Lord who put forward this view, except to say he has been a leading Conservative and therefore speaks with some weight.  However, what he said is not rocket science.  The Tories would have no choice but to be present in the EU and do their best for us, the British people.

This again shows the complete madness of Tory policy on Europe.  They are trying to be neither one thing nor the other.  On the one hand, the Tories do not want to withdraw completely from the EU while on the other they think they can change EU agreements to suit their own agenda.  As I have said many times before, renegotiation of the treaties and agreements is a non-starter.  All of these were closely fought before being signed by all the EU member states.  Given this, it seems extremely unlikely that any, let alone a majority, of EU countries would be willing even to contemplate tearing up what already exists just to placate one particular member state. 

The fact that the Tories had huge difficulties setting up the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group in the European Parliament shows, I believe, just how marginalised they have become in Europe.  The Tories have, as I understand it, lost support from Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy as well as other centre-right governments in Europe.  In all honesty, I really cannot see any way in which they would be able to get enough agreement from enough of the 27 EU member states to change any of the EU treaties. 

This leaves the option of withdrawing completely from the EU.  This, at least, would be an honest policy and is now achievable as the Lisbon Treaty allows countries to leave the EU.  However, it appears Cameron doesn’t want to go down this route. The Tories are stuck with their impossible promises. In all seriousness, would you put your trust in a political party whose leaders are so obviously muddled on a topic as important as Britain’s role in Europe?

David Cameron sits on the Horns of a Dilemma

Labour Party

EU CameronThe time has now arrived for David Cameron to come up with a new Conservative European policy.  Since Czech President Vaclav Klaus has ended all speculation and signed the Lisbon Treaty, the Tories no longer have even the slightest amount of wriggle room.  Cameron’s muddle through and hope for the best approach will no longer wash.  But what decisions will he take, or perhaps more to the point, what decisions will his Party allow him to take?

Many Tory MPs, most of the grassroots and right wing newspapers such as the Daily Telegraph want a hard line on Europe.  It never ceases to amaze me just how much time and energy the Tories are prepared to waste on the European Union.  I am utterly convinced that the Eurosceptics are fighting a lost cause; Britain has been in the EU for over 30 years and over half our exports go to EU countries.  We are in the EU and in Europe.  It would be madness to leave and expose Britain to an extremely uncertain and isolated future.  I believe the British people understand this and if push came to shove would make their views known.

However, Cameron no longer has the luxury of time on his side.  He needs to be credible from today right up to the General Election.  Will he follow his Party or go with the centre-right heads of government in the European Council?  The European leaders whom Cameron may once have viewed as his allies in Europe are almost to a man and woman fed up with the Tories leaving the EPP to set up their own Eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists Group.  There is little doubt that they will tell him that the EU works on the basis of compromise and that if the Tories seek to undo the Lisbon Treaty which has been the best part of 10 years in the making, and which grants Britain various opt-outs, British influence in Europe will suffer.

So heads (credibility with EU leaders) you lose with the grassroots and tails (popularity with Tory members) you lose with the heads of state.  If I were Mr Cameron (thankfully there’s no chance of that), this is a dilemma I would rather not have to face.  My strong hunch is that Cameron will go with his Party just as he did when he promised to take the Conservatives out of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) in the European Parliament in order to get himself elected Tory Leader.  The Conservatives have, after all, already decided that, should they form a government, they will introduce a law stating that future change to EU treaties will require ratification by referendum.

Going with Party rather than seeking influence in Europe’s corridors of power would be utter lunacy.  Surely any intelligent and right thinking person can see that Britain needs influence in the EU.  The EU is both our present and our future.  While I, for one, would never argue that the EU as presently constituted is perfect, influence gives Britain the opportunity to make improvements and stand up for our national interests.  Since the Tories have in the past claimed they do not wish to completely withdraw from the European Union, where is the logic in any future policy which may give away British influence?