Tuesday 2 June 2009

European elections: New political group

Phobia is the common denominator: Europhobes join homophobes.

Small wonder that the UK Conservative Party and the Polish Law and Justice Party are going to form a political group in the European Parliament after the European elections. They will be joined by the Czech Civic Democrats (ODS), hovering between the Europhobia of President Vaclav Klaus and more pragmatic market oriented nationalism. They will probably attract some MEPs from nationalistic fringe parties in order to have representatives from at least seven EU member states.

The Group of the European People’s Party (EPP) will become a bit more coherent, but the main effect is that the new group rejects the European mainstream, including Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy and other national leaders, broadly supportive of British aims on the single market and world trade.

The other member states can hardly have missed the profound problems the Conservative European Election Manifesto, David Cameron and William Hague promise, if Britain stays on the inside of the European Union.

If UK government relationships with Europe have looked less than constructive until now, you ain’t seen nothing yet. We will just have to wait for the Conservative government to be voted in.

Demonstratively outside the European mainstream, Cameron will arrange his referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

Then he will try to woo sympathy to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with other EU member states, firmly committed to the Lisbon Treaty, possibly in force at the time.

The Tories’ policies on Europe have all the makings of a strategic disaster spiced with tactical blunders.

Why should the other leaders of Europe go out of their way to help Cameron? Shouldn’t he reap what he has sown?

After all, the (other) member states need a functioning European Union.

Ralf Grahn


  1. Looks scary. I just hope that the Lisbon treaty will have come into force before they reach power.
    "Renegociating" sounds like a difficult bargain, and they may have to let other member-states move on to a core Europe.
    I hate to write it, but even if Ireland ratifies, a UK referendum would make the building of the EU grinds to a halt. Not a good thing as far as efficiency, accountability or democracy are concerned.

  2. Aaron,

    I agree with you. To call Cameron's and Hague's EU policies suicidal would be an exaggeration. The UK is big and developed enough to pursue happiness as a separate nation state, although with fewer friends, less influence and more difficulties as a trading nation.

    In principle, the loss of the UK would be substantial for the European Union, but in practice only if it would mean losing a constructive partner, which does not seem to be on the cards.

  3. Ralf,

    If the Conservatives win (which they will) then this will be the most eurosceptic UK government that the EU has ever had to deal with. Even Thatcher was elected on a pro-Europe platform.

    With a referendum on Lisbon, I wonder if Cameron won't create the expectation of an eventual referendum on EU membership. This would be dangerous for the Conservatives, because they are not interested in leaving the EU.

    But you know, there's nothing Cameron can do. Leaving the EPP was the campaign promise that got him elected head of his party (and hence the next Prime Minister of the UK). He might not even believe in it strongly, but he can't back down.

  4. Josef,

    Public opinion in Britain has become so sour with regard to EU - largely through depiction of it as a sinister monster - that it would be a consistent move for the UK to secede.

    What the British discussion almost totally ignores is an outside perspective - how the UK is seen from Europe.

    If Cameron acts according to his election promises, he would probably sleep-walk out of the European Union.

    The irony, as you point out, is that the Conservatives want to behave like spoiled brats with a nuclear option (veto) on the inside, which they cannot do if they are out.

    These are the reasons why I have dedicated a series of posts to the greatest strategic issue for the EU in the short term, alongside the Lisbon Treaty.

    Since there is no constructive Britain to be seen in the EU for a long time to come, I think that the European leaders should let Cameron and Hague walk out.

  5. I'm sure an EU without the UK would be a great loss, for both the UK and the EU.

    I agree it wouldn't be suicidal. The world would keep on turning. But it would be bad for the UK's economy, and unemployment would rise.

    I'm also not sure that the Conservatives are acting like spoiled brats. They're taking a risk by leaving the EPP (one that I disagree with), but they hope it will pay off for all of Europe.

    They don't seem to want the UK to actually leave the EU, they're very careful about that in their rhetoric. But they would like to reform it, and they definitely favour the intergovernmentalism approach.

    I do agree with their goals: a more democratic EU. I just think their methods are totally counter-productive. They will end up with less power, not more.

  6. Josef,

    When reading the Conservative Party's European Election Manifesto or their leaders' various statements and proposed actions, its is hard to see their infrequent referrals to the 'good of Europe' as more than a flimsy pretext.

    They are much, much clearer on their drive to play against their team (EU) or their own game, without considering their European partners.

    But counter-productive, yes, here we are in agreement.

  7. I'm sure the Conservative Party has no desire or intention of leaving the EU. It would be a cold and lonely future - plus I doubt their friends in America would welcome it. We can give them more credit for craftiness than that. I suspect that Cameron wants to (1) reform the EU and (2) have some useful bargaining chips.

    We can forget a federal Europe; that opportunity was surely lost when Eastern Europe joined the EU.

    Assuming Lisbon goes through (I think it will) there will be much pressure from the U.S., UK and their allies to speed along Turkey's EU entry. Once that is achieved Amercia will have a large number of EU votes "in the bag" and will end up, effectively, running the show when it comes to anything really important. Especially when you consider the population predictions for Turkey and the UK (have a look at the stats for Italy, Spain and Germany!).

    Oh, the perfidious Anglo-Americans, 300 years and still going strong. But perhaps I'm allowing my worries to get the better of me.

  8. Adam P,

    Historically, the British leading politicians have shown great resilience in resisting US pressure to join European integration, in order to safeguard the 'special relationship'.

    I find Camaron's use of the concept EU reform disingenious. It is not reform, but deconstruction, when you bring back the Concert of Nations.

    The march towards building a second Council of Europe, dedicated to the single market, is going to encounter one serious obstacle:

    Major enlargement is off the books without the Lisbon Treaty, say Germany and France.

    De Gaulle was one of the real villains of European integration, but he was right about the Britain. It is not suited for the job. No wonder he knew it, he and they were of a kind (only with different priorities).


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