Reflecting the British vision of Europe

East of England Euro MP Geoffrey Van Orden puts the case for the Conservatives forming a new political group in the European Parliament

Geoffrey Van Orden MEP

East of England Euro MP Geoffrey Van Orden puts the case for the Conservatives forming a new political group in the European Parliament

THE European elections on June 4 in Britain had one very clear outcome - people voted overwhelmingly for parties that don't agree with the way the EU has developed and where it's heading. Conservatives recognise this concern and want less Europe.

This approach has been given both practical and symbolic effect by the Conservatives' decision to leave their affiliation to the federalist European People's Party Group (EPP) and to form a new bloc in the Parliament - the European Conservative and Reformist Group (ECR) - that will more accurately reflect what people want.

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The work of the European Parliament is largely organised on the basis of its political groups. There will be seven in the new parliament. The largest is still the EPP with 264 members, followed by the Socialists with 161. Neither commands a majority in the 736-member Parliament.

To form a group a minimum of 25 MEPs from at least seven countries is required. When the announcement of the formation of the ECR was made on June 16, you might have imagined that the media would applaud. I can recall no issue that has provoked such a reaction from our political opponents or that has seen so much misinformation being peddled and recycled.

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Is it that commentators are dumbfounded that a political leader has actually kept his promise? Or does it betray a streak of excessive Europhilia among the commentariat?

Let's be clear why we have left the EPP. It regards itself as the motor of European integration and was the prime mover behind the European Constitution. It wants EU embassies, an EU army, an EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, an EU immigration system, an EU justice system and an EU `FBI.' It also wants an end to the British rebate on its EU budget payments and to the UK's permanent seat on the UN Security Council. And of course it wants the euro and a Europe-wide tax system.

The Conservative Party profoundly disagrees with all these positions. It seems that the main criticisms of our leaving the EPP relate to so-called “loss of influence”, “isolationism”, and to keeping bad company.

Influence presumably refers to the remote possibility that we might swing another 239, otherwise contrary, votes to support our views through the EPP. This is a superficially attractive claim, but there is plenty of evidence that it is unrealistic. Even in economic and fiscal policy, where we supposedly had the most in common, Conservatives rarely influenced the EPP but, instead, were compromised by its agenda.

The EPP, and other groups, are more likely to take account of our policy positions when our votes have to be courted rather than taken for granted. And I have no doubt that, as it becomes clearer by the day that David Cameron will become the next Prime Minister, Angela Merkel and other European leaders will be anxious to do business with him regardless of political groupings in the European Parliament.

The new group has Euro MPs from Poland, the Czech Republic, Belgium, and the Baltic states. Our visceral opponents have, for years, said that we would have to get into bed with a bunch of swivel-eyed fascists to form a new Group. In fact, our selection process has been more exclusive than any other group in the Parliament.

The Times recently devoted a whole page to our Latvian partners and concluded that accusations of extremism had no factual basis. However, had we stayed in the EPP we would now find ourselves sitting with the successors to Alleanza Nationale, an Italian party with clear fascist origins.

I have been scouring the pages of our newspapers in vain to find similar denunciations of the people sharing Labour's camp - old communists, a former IRA member, a 9/11 denier etc - but presumably they are immune from criticism because they don't rock the EU boat.

Besides the core issue of political principle, there are other good practical reasons to break our EPP affiliation, which has rendered us less visible than our size and standing deserve.

Our views were not represented in the Conference of Presidents, made up of political group leaders, which makes all the important decisions about the running of the Parliament and its business.

Our voice was not heard in big set-piece debates.

What is now really exciting is the possibility of having an active, mainstream, reasonable, anti-federalist group of European Conservatives and Reformists, harnessing its resources for new political purposes that will at last project the views of enormous numbers of people across Europe. With at least 55 members, this new group comprises mainstream parties of government and other serious politicians uncomfortable with the nature and current thrust of the EU.

It's not a question of in or out.

Nothing could be more outmoded than the undemocratic, ultra-integrationist EU model devised over 50 years ago and still promoted most vigorously by the EPP, Socialists and Liberals.

Nothing could be more refreshing and forward-looking than the prospect, for the first time, of a political group that challenges EU orthodoxy and that will work to reform the EU on the basis of accountability, democracy, and respect for national sovereignty, concentrating on economic recovery. Given the choice, I believe that's what people not just in Britain but right across Europe want.

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