Friday, November 21, 2008

Agonizing, what?

Judging by Charles Tannock's posting on CentreRight Blog, the Conservative Party has begun its withdrawal from that (second) promise to pull out of the EPP-ED. It is easy to dismiss the subject as being of little real importance in the whole question of Britain's membership of the EU. That would ignore Conservative grass-roots anger that the one and only promise David Cameron had made during his leadership campaign was broken almost immediately and is now on way to being broken the second time. (What he did was to explain after an indecent interval that the withdrawal will be accomplished after the 2009 elections.)

Even those who are fanatical supporters of the Cameroonies can be silenced by the question of "well how can we trust him when he would not fulfil the one promise he made". Mr Tannock was given a severe pasting by all those who commented on his piece.

A follow-up posting by Matthew Sinclair focuses on two responses from Roger Helmer and Dan Hannan. Both oppose Charles Tannock's position but their position will be rather difficult if, after the 2009 elections, the Conservatives will stay in the EPP-ED because they will not be able to form another group of their own and do not want either to sit alone or to join already existing groups. Effectively that is what Mr Tannock is saying.

The problem, as one hears, is that the negotiations with like-minded East European and other politicians tend to bog down for one very good reason: those like-minded politicians do not trust the Conservative Party, and who can blame them. We do not trust it either.

Just to remind our readers, here is a piece I wrote some time ago about the way the Conservative Party betrayed the East European free-market, eurosceptic groups back in 2004.

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.
Are there any reasons why the situation should be any different next year?