Thursday, June 10, 2004

Just so you know who (and what) you are voting for

Wilfried Martens is not exactly a household name in Britain, but he has a significant stake in the Conservative performance at the Euro-elections and will be one of those who helps shape the thinking (and actions) of Conservative MEPs when they go to Brussels.

Martens is a co-president of the European Peoples' Party – the group to which the Conservatives are attached – having held that post since 1990. From October 2000 to November 2001 he was President of the Centrist Democrat International. Previously, he was Belgium's Prime Minister on various occasions from 1979 to 1992.

On the eve of the Euro-elections, he has given and interview to the Europhile "Euractiv" web-based news agency, and some of his comments are more than a little revealing.

There have, for instance, been "strong tensions" between the eurosceptics and the "pro-europeans" in the EPP, and speculation on whether this would cause a break-up of the group. At centre-stage is the continued Conservative membership, with objections being expressed, not least by another EPP member, Fran├žois Bayrou, head of the Union for French Democracy.

Bayrou is a convinced "federalist" and wants to see the EPP become the midwife to the birth of a new European political force, "whose programme would consist of rebuilding political and democratic Union in Europe". He complains that the EPP is no longer "defending the heritage of the (EU) founders."

But Martens denies this. "The EPP is not becoming less pro-European", he tells Euractiv - rather shooting the fox of some of the Tory MEPs. He dismisses the claims that the EPP is softening its line, denouncing the actions of some of the players as "manoeuvres" due to "the internal political situations in different countries and people wanting to raise their profiles." So now we know - it was all posturing and pretence.

"We want the MEPs from the parties of M. Prodi and M. Bayrou (who were threatening to join the Liberal group) to stay inside the group", Marten says. But do the voters in the UK know that Martens regards the Tory MEPs and Prodi's men as natural soul-mates?

So unlikely does that seem that even "Euractiv" is driven to ask whether it was time to "reappraise the idea of an alliance with the UK Conservatives?". This elicits a dusty response from Martens: "Personally I was not in favour of changing the status of the group", he says.

But the real revelation comes in his follow-up. "Anyway, the debate on the Constitution is a transitional one", he declares. "The day the constitution is ratified, this issue will disappear - if the UK ratifies..." In other words, once we've got the constitution in the bag, it's business as usual.

Martens and his Conservative pals can get on with their main agenda, which includes building up the EPP and the leading "European political party", and lobbying to combine the functions of President of the Council and President of the Commission.

For as long as the Conservative European group remains in the EPP, that, unfortunately, is what a Conservative vote will help promote. Even if the individuals are Eurosceptics, it dosn't really make any difference. Their money will support the likes of Martens and his agenda (see our previous Blog click here).

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