This morning's Telegraph reports that the EU Parliament is attempting to make significant changes to the rules governing the formation of groups that are eligible for funding. Each group will need to have 30 MEP members, rather than 20, and have members from a quarter of EU states, rather than a fifth. The Telegraph sees the move as an attempt to thwart Euroscepticism within the Parliament and protect the status of the EPP and Socialist groupings. That may be true but the immediate consequence would be to make it much, much harder for Conservatives to form a group outside of the EPP, as David Cameron has repeatedly promised to deliver.
But EU Referendum's Richard North provides a money quote:
"The real aim of the game is to sabotage the Conservative Party's attempt to break away from the EPP group – a central part of David Cameron's strategy to parade his "Eurosceptic" credentials. Already, the Tories have had such difficulty in meeting the existing requirements to form a separate group that they have not yet been able to make the break. Lifting the barrier will make it near impossible for them to do so – which is precisely the intention. Without formal recognition as part of a group, the Tory splinter would have to sit as "non attached" MEPs, alongside communists, fascists and other odds and sods – a constant source of embarrassment and ridicule. Also, they would lose out on much coveted chances to become committee chairman as well as membership of delegations and the jollies that go with it."
Mr North also suggests that Timothy Kirkhope MEP is one of the drivers behind the move. This we cannot substantiate but Mr Kirkhope certainly dragged his feet as leader in fulfilling the London party's wishes before he was removed as Delegation Chairman last year.
Is this the thanks David Cameron gets for ensuring that all incumbent MEPs remain on the top of the lists for next year's European Elections?
Mr Cameron and William Hague must move quickly to ensure Conservative MEPs are no part of these rule changes. Failure to act will suggest that the Tory leadership is resigned to not delivering on its EPP promise.
9am, 29th May, Statement from CCHQ:
"At the meeting of the European Parliament Constitutional Affairs Committee [on Tuesday], Conservative Spokesmen Timothy Kirkhope MEP and Vice Chairman of the Committee was a leading opponent of Richard Corbett's proposals to raise the minimum threshold for the establishment of political groups in the European Parliament and indeed, these proposals were indeed defeated in that committee, by one vote.
At the same time, Mr Kirkhope was able to secure additional amendments that could mean that smaller groups should not automatically be dissolved, were they to fall below a minimum threshold, as is currently the case.
The result of these votes means that either the proposals will have to be withdrawn altogether or they will come before the plenary session of the Parliament next month with little remaining credibility and of course Mr Kirkhope will be advising all Conservative MEPs to continue their opposition to any changes that would raise the threshold for the establishment of new political groups."
2.45pm, 29th May: Dan Hannan has now blogged on this topic.