Friday, December 03, 2004

The Conservatives' betrayal of their East European colleagues

This tale should have been told a little while ago. Some of our readers might put my silence down to basic good nature, others will probably suspect dark manoeuvring. In fact, it is neither. I simply decided that the Conservative Party’s European so-called policy does not need to be discussed any more than is absolutely necessary.

However, there has been a certain amount of attention focussed on one of the bright eurosceptic stars of the Conservatives and that is Daniel Hannan MEP (and well-known journalist as my colleague has pointed out). Mr Hannan is about to have a pamphlet published by Politeia, the gist of which will be that a no vote in the referendum will put Britain in a splendid position to renegotiate her status within the EU and relationship with the other member states but only if the right government is in place. No prizes for guessing which one is the right government – the one led by a man who keeps telling us that under him this, that and the other will be repatriated, or, at least, partially repatriated, but not explaining exactly how this wonderful state of affairs is to be achieved as exist from the EU is not to be contemplated. Somehow, it will all come right on the night.

A summary of the forthcoming pamphlet has so far been published in the Sunday Telegraph, eurofacts and Freedom Today, the magazine of the Freedom Association. Mr Hannan is doing what every journalist does: recycling his material. Unfortunately for him many of the same people read the three publications (though, clearly, not all the readers of the Sunday Telegraph look at the other two).

My colleague has already given his critique of the ideas expressed in the article and has had occasion to remind our readers of the fact that Mr Hannan, his colleague Roger Helmer MEP and sundry other supposedly eurosceptic members of the Conservative Party at the European Parliament, belong to the ultra-federalist European People’s Party, the EPP.

What he did not tell is the prologue to the sad tale of the eurosceptics marching back into the federalist grouping. For a year or so before May 1 of this year, the date on which the East European countries joined the EU, there had been feverish negotiations and speculations about the effect this event might have on the political atmosphere inside the enlarged Union.

One development that fascinated all was the arrival of numerous, right-of-centre, reasonably eurosceptic, pro-British and pro-American politicians. Surely that would make a difference. (Without wishing to blow my own trumpet too much, I claim to be one of the first to have noted that there would be a new tension in the common foreign and security policy. But I did not think there would be many other changes.)

Most of the East European sceptics realized very early that they stood no chance of getting a no vote in their countries’ referendums on accession. There were many reasons for this: a desire to belong fully to the West; fear of Russia; the impossibility of having any other agreements with West European countries as the EU had decreed that no other relationship was possible; and, not least, the fact that in most of those countries the outright opponents of membership were either very nasty nationalist or unreconstructed communist parties. As it is, most of the referendums had a low turn-out, thus registering a certain lack of enthusiasm for the whole project.

On the other hand, it was felt, the influx of the new countries and new politicians after the European elections of June would mark a new beginning for the whole right-of-centre movement inside the EU, particularly the European Parliament. Plans were laid for a new grouping that would be led by the British Conservatives and would include various parties such as the Czech ODS and the Hungarian FIDESZ as well as a few genuinely conservative West Europeans. The East Europeans talked excitedly of this new grouping and the fact that through it they would be able to work together with the people they perceived as their friends and allies.

In the existing members and among some outside observers, mostly in the United States, there was a feeling that this would be a definitive and important change in the politics of the EU. This was the way those ideas the East Europeans had worked out for themselves in their ten years of independence would enter the political bloodstream of the tired old Union.

Alas for high hopes. Before the European election Michael Howard, the Conservative leader and he who will allegedly lead us into the newly negotiated free trade alliance with the Continental countries, issued his diktat: the Conservative MEPs would go back into the European People’s Party and stay in that federalist grouping.

What could the Tory eurosceptics have done? Well, they could have said no. There were about half a dozen of them in leading positions on the lists and many more in slightly lower places. They could not have all been fired. They all, they assure us, fought like tigers, had rows, screaming matches, what have you. But the sad truth is that like little lambkins they all agreed to go back into the federalist EPP.

When the new right-of-centre, eurosceptic politicians from the East European countries appeared in Brussels they were met with a, to them, stunning situation. The British Conservatives, who had been scheduled to lead the new grouping, were not there. They were in the old grouping and a federalist one at that.

The new members accommodated themselves as best they could and dispersed between one or two more or less right-wing groups. The great revolution in EU parliamentary politics never happened. And the East Europeans were betrayed again – by their supposed allies the British Conservative eurosceptics.

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