In Britain, the decision of the Conservative Party to leave the mainstream group of the European People’s Party (EPP) in the European Parliament in order to set up the anti-integrationist European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group continues to cause debate because of the Tories’ choice of political bedfellows.
BBC News has taken a closer look at the chairman of the ECR group, Polish MEP Michal Kaminski: Digging up the truth about Michal Kaminski (23 November 2009).
Kaminski has strenuously denied allegations that he is a homophobe, an anti-Semite or a neo-Nazi.
At national level Kaminski represents the Law and Justice Party (PiS), established by Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
The third main component of the ECR group is the Czech Civic Democratic Party (ODS), established by Vaclav Klaus.
War crimes, moral conservatism, Catholic fundamentalism and homophobia offer a heady mix for public debate in 21st century Europe.
Political influence in European Union affairs is another matter, but at least as important.
The ECR group is anti-integrationist, although it describes it as opposition to EU federalism. This sets it against the European mainstream, represented by the EPP, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and the Greens, all of which see the EU as a common project and strive to make it work better.
The ECR group does not describe itself as nationalist, but that is the effect of its emphasis on the sovereign integrity of the nation state, when the European Union has been established to achieve effective sovereignty by pooling, i.e. joining forces.
The ECR group does not support the European consensus view of a highly competitive social market economy; its formula of minimal regulation, lower taxation and small government embodies a vision built on free market fundamentalism.
These fundamental contrarian choices have left the European Conservatives and Reformists politically isolated in the European Parliament (and more widely in EU affairs). The ECR group has only one committee chairman among 20 in the European Parliament.
There are few indications that the ECR group will make hay in the nominations for the next EU Commission, or the assignment of portfolios.
“Freely cooperating, sovereign nation states” may still bring the ECR (UK Conservatives) a revival of fortunes, if the Tories win the general election about half a year from now. Veto powers and obstruction in the most intergovernmental EU institution, the Council, with a long tradition of consensus seeking – advancing according to the convoy principle – can give a new UK government an amount of negative influence: the power to stop, to slow down and to water down proposals.
But David Cameron and William Hague have promised more than that: In part, they want to prevent future integration by domestic legislation, partly they want to put integration into reverse gear, by repatriating powers during the next Parliament. The formula goes some way to appease anti-EU opinion at home, but it is hardly a recipe for coalition building with other member state governments within the European Union.
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