Friday, April 23, 2004

Walking the walk

While Tory leader Michael Howard may be talking the talk, his MEP are walking the walk, but in a different direction. To a man – and women – they have been required to join the ultra-federalist European political grouping, the EPP-ED.

The theory was, according to Jonathan Evans, their arch-Europhile leader, was that they could pursue their own independent line, separate from the parent group. But, as is so often the case in the EU, theory and practice rarely share the same universe. When Christopher Heaton-Harris, then the Tory Euro-MEP whip, tried to get a motion underway censoring the Commission over it handling of the Eurostat affair, he found the going a little rough.

Roger Helmer MEP, in his latest “electronic newsletter” from Brussels, explains some of the background:

Many Conservatives will have been surprised by Christopher Booker's Sunday Telegraph column on April 18th. He discusses the Party's decision to re-affiliate with the EPP group in the Brussels parliament next time round.

He also reports, correctly, that most Tory MEPs signed Chris Heaton-Harris's censure motion condemning the Commission for its failure to address fraud issues, especially at Euro-Stat. And that we were all asked by Jonathan Evans to withdraw our names, because Jonathan, having signed initially, later decided that for tactical reasons it was not the right time for this motion.

As Booker reports, there are seven names of Conservative MEPs remaining, including Chris's. You may like to know that I am also one of them. I cannot see any tactical reason to risk giving the impression that Conservatives have gone soft on EU fraud -- least of all a few weeks before the euro-elections. Our 1999 euro-manifesto contained an explicit commitment to fight fraud in the EU institutions.

We have seen some appalling arm-twisting and bullying tactics by the EPP (and, to be fair, by other political groups) to get members to withdraw their names. One German CSU (EPP) MEP was threatened with expulsion from her party and removal from their euro-list unless she withdrew her name. For days the numbers see-sawed as some withdrew, while others added their names, but finally yesterday (April 20th) the final version was tabled, with enough signatures. It will be debated today, and voted in the May plenary.

So why are the EPP (and others) so dead-set against a censure motion on fraud? Easy. They don't want to vote against it -- and appear soft on fraud just before the election. But they don't want to vote for it -- and damage confidence in the EU Commission, and therefore in the whole EU project. So they just wish it would go away.

They are so keen to promote their European ideal that they just don't care that it's corrupt to the core. And they're content to sweep scandal under the carpet. This time, they failed.

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