Options for Tory MEPs outside the EPP – an answer to Charles Tannock
Rupert Matthews is a freelance historian and one of the MEP candidates for the Conservative Party in the East Midlands Region.
In recent days Dr Charles Tannock MEP has been writing about the possible future for Conservative MEPs outside of the EPP, or perhaps in it. Like Dr Tannock, I am an MEP candidate and so am signed up to the pledge to abide by Mr Cameron’s decision on such matters after the Euro Elections of June 2009. Unlike Dr Tannock, I am not an MEP, and so I may have a different view to him.
Dr Tannock’s articles have been well argued and interesting, but while most of the facts he puts forward are correct, I think that the conclusions he draws are mistaken. To understand why, it is necessary to go back to basics. Why, for instance, are Tory MEPs in the EPP-ED at all?
The answer is that being inside a group within the EU Parliament brings many advantages. MEPs in a group get more influence over the Parliament’s agenda, who sits on what committee, who leads discussions on what laws and (never forget) who goes on what enjoyable junket. Tory MEPs are in the EPP-ED group to gain these advantages.
However, the political groups in the EU Parliament, of which the EPP-ED is but one, are not governed by normal rules.
In the Westminster Parliament, and most UK local councils, a political group can be formed by any elected representatives. Two MPs can be a group if they wish. Not so in the EU Parliament, where strict rules and regulations are in force. These change from time to time, but basically they insist that a “group” must contain about 30 MEPs from about half a dozen member states.
The reasons for this are clear. The federalists who control the Parliament do not want MEPs sitting in national groups, still less do they want anti-federalists forming a group. The recent change, prompted by UK Labour MEPs, to raise the numbers needed for a group was obviously a move aimed to block the efforts by the Tories to form a new group.
This is not only undemocratic, it is anti-democratic. Elected representatives should be free to form groups with whoever they wish. But in the EU, democracy does not extend to those who disagree with the aim of a United States of Europe.
Yes, it would ideal if the Conservatives could form a group of right-of-centre MEPs opposed to further EU-integration – or even in favour of reversing the integration that has already taken place. But the federalist MEPs have already demonstrated that they will do whatever it takes to stop this happening – hence the recent move to raise the threshold needed to form a group.
Effectively that leaves the Tory MEPs with the choice of sitting in a group, the policies of which we disagree with (as at present) or of sitting as a collection of independents.
Staying within the EPP-ED, or joining some other group that we do not like, would be to submit to the federalist majority and play by their rules. By going along with this corrupt system, it could be argued, Tory MEPs are in effect condoning it.
Sitting as a collection of independents would, it is true, mean losing out on a number of advantages. However, I would suggest these are largely illusory. The pro-integrationist federalists have an in-built majority in the EU Parliament. No matter how much influence Tory MEPs may have within a group, it will not overturn that fact. Sitting as a collection of independents, however, will free the Tory MEPs from the constraints put on them by being in a group. They will be enabled to speak out against the acquis communitaire, campaign against the ever closer union and generally form an opposition to the federalist consensus within the Parliament.
Whether you think these freedoms outweigh the advantages found within in a group to influence the progress of the laws going through the EU system is a matter of opinion. I think it does, others may disagree. After all, as has been pointed, something over 50% of laws affecting the UK now come from Brussels.
Then there is the impact of events in the EU Parliament on politics in the UK. While most laws come from Brussels, the majority of people in the UK are unaware of this fact. They certainly don’t take it into account when voting. It could be argued, therefore, that whatever influence Tory MEPs gain by being in a group is of little or no importance to how people vote in this country.
However, there is a substantial minority of voters for whom the EU is a burning issue of great importance. How big this minority may be is open to debate, but it is probably somewhere between 5% and 15%. For these voters, views and policies on Europe are of great, in some case paramount, importance. They control how those people vote. On the left, this may come down to a choice between Labour and the BNP. So far as it affects the Conservatives, the choice these voters have before them is between voting Conservative or voting UKIP.
The complexities of events within the EU Parliament are of little concern to these voters, but they do care passionately about the Conservative policy on transferring powers to the EU, or seeking to transfer them back to Westminster. By sitting in a group that is openly pro-federalist, the Tory MEPs are sending these voters a powerful signal – and it is the wrong one.
While the arguments over the balance of advantage within the EU Parliament between remaining in a group we don’t like or sitting as independents may be finely balanced, the political argument as it affects voters in the UK is a no-brainer. The advantages are overwhelmingly on the side of sitting as independents.
Come June 2009 I may or may not be an MEP – that is in the hands of the voters of the East Midlands. But whatever the result I hope that the Conservative MEPs immediately pull out of the EPP-ED. If they cannot find a new group that meets the anti-democratic hurdles put up by the EU-federalists, then so be it. They must sit as independents.