Conservative MEPs and the relationship between the EPP-ED
Dear Fellow Conservative,
There has been some speculation recently by various MPs and in the media about the EPP-ED and Conservative MEPs. I hope that the explanation below will clarify the current position.
The European Peoples Party is a trans-national political party of the centre-right and includes in its membership every centre-right party in Government or Opposition in the European Union i.e. the CDU-CSU in Germany, the Partido Popular in Spain, Forza-Italia in Italy and so on. The Conservative Party is not a member, although we do have close and historic relations with these sister parties along similar lines.
In the European Parliament, no grouping has a majority but the centre-right is the largest section with about 36% of the MEPs. Given that the role of the Parliament is of increasing significance, in terms of agreeing or rejecting proposed legislation etc, it is important that broadly like-minded MEPs form as big a block as possible in order to influence policy.
Accordingly, the Conservative Party, together with the Ulster Unionist(s), became associate members of only the Parliamentary Group of the EPP - not the trans-national Party - under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher and with her assent. (The decision is a joint one between the Leader of the Conservative MEPs and the Party Leader, not solely for the latter.) This relationship was confirmed by John Major, William Hague, Ian Duncan Smith and Michael Howard. In 2004 a subsidiary group called the European Democrats (ED) was formed as an associate member of the EPP, thus creating the EPP-ED. Expectations were high that most of the new entrants would join the ED but to date only the Conservatives (26 plus 1 Ulster Unionist) and 9 ODS (Czech Republic), have joined. The Czechs are deeply divided about remaining in the ED as some wish to join the EPP fully.
Conservative MEPs have a unique position in the EPP-ED. We are the second largest group on the centre-right (after the Germans) and have a written agreement (signed by William Hague) which allows us complete freedom to speak on any issue we wish, whether or not contrary to the EPP position, to vote in any way we wish and to act in any way we wish. Our sole guide is the Conservative Manifesto on which we were elected and our Leadership decides absolutely and without external pressures of any sort how Tory MEPs will operate. Of course, on many issues, we are of like mind with the EPP but in the last session, we took a different view on about 30% of the votes. There is no compunction to vote with the EPP on issues with which we differ from them. Those of you who live in areas with “hung” Councils, such as Cumbria, Sefton or South Ribble, know that deals have to be struck with opponents or independents where no clear majority exists for Conservative action. Thus it is in the European Parliament.
The advantages of this EP arrangement far outweigh the disadvantages. As 27 MEPs sitting alone, we would be unlikely to have any real influence in debate and discussions and would be in unsullied but futile isolation. As associate Parliamentary members of the EPP-ED, we now command a Vice-Presidency of the Parliament (Edward McMillan-Scott), the Chairmanship of the influential Industry Committee (Giles Chichester), the Chairmanships of two of the largest Delegations, the United States (Jonathan Evans) and Australia (Neil Parish), and five Co-ordinatorships. The last needs explanation.
Each Parliamentary Committee is divided along proportional lines, representing the various group strengths in Parliament. Along with the other groups, the EPP-ED elects one of its members to be Co-ordinator (Leader) on the Committee and because it is the largest Group, effectively controls the Committee’s Agenda and voting activity. Your Conservative Delegation has the largest number of Co-ordinating positions of any national party in Parliament, which is an indication of the hard work we put in and the respect with which we are held. They are Environment & Health (Bowis), International Trade (Sturdy), Internal Market (Harbour) Overseas Development (Deva) and Petitions (Atkins).
It is generally recognised by organisations such as the CBI and IOD, together with many other industrial and commercial groups, that this Conservative presence is of huge assistance to British business. Indeed, they sing our praises throughout the country! We could not have achieved any of these positions of influence without the active support of the EPP-ED members which would not have been forthcoming without our associate membership. We also gain in terms of Parliamentary allocation of Staff and financial resources - often put to good use by the rest of the party.
I have no particular brief for the EPP-ED as such. I continue to be opposed to the Euro, the Constitution and the concept of a federal United States of Europe. But years of experience has made me understand that power and influence comes with numbers – whether of Councillors, MPs or MEPs. Standing alone and diminished achieves nothing for one’s country or constituents. And if we are to continue to fight for British interests we must operate on as large a basis as possible. It is called “realpolitik”.
The disadvantage of the relationship is that the EPP Trans-national party is committed to a Federal Europe, and the Euro. Some members are also committed to the Constitution. But Conservative MEPs are totally opposed to these objectives and we simply vote against whenever the subjects come up. There is no problem whatsoever and our colleagues in the EPP have to grin and bear it!
There have been suggestions that we should form a new Atlanticist, free trade group of European Conservative Parties, committed to the independent Nation State. Sadly, this is cloud-cuckoo land, for two reasons. Firstly, all the mainstream centre-right or Conservative parties in Europe are members of, or associated with, the EPP-ED and none will leave. Secondly, some of those who are Atlanticist are opposed to free trade and vice-versa. They would not offer the relationship we need. Under Parliamentary rules we are not allowed to sit alone and would, therefore, find ourselves in the company of The League of Polish Families (racist and Europhobic), the Danish People’s Party (Ian Duncan Smith banned us from even talking to them!) the Italian Fascist Party, and of course UKIP. This is a pretty unappealing ragbag of fringe politicians and I, and the great majority of my Conservative colleagues, view that prospect with great distaste.
As William Hague put it in 1999, when he confirmed our associate membership of the EPP-ED Parliamentary Group - “I simply cannot afford to have my political opponents in the House of Commons suggesting that I am isolated from the mainstream Conservative parties on the continent of Europe.”
And one final point. All Conservative Candidates for the last European Parliamentary elections committed themselves individually and in writing to the then Party Chairman, Liam Fox MP, that we would abide by the Manifesto commitment to remain in the EPP-ED until 2009. This committment was made with the EPP Leadership and signed by Michael Howard. If the Party decides to change that commitment at the next European Election, then, of course, I shall be happy to abide by that decision. But until then, I must adhere to the promise made to the Electorate on behalf of the Conservative Party. Only the electors can release us from that.
The Rt. Hon Sir Robert Atkins MEP Deputy Leader of the Conservatives in Europe.