The Tories are really poisoning the well over Europe aren’t they?
Obviously, the issue of the direction of Europe and how to engage with it has been a large bone of contention for the Tories, going back to the Maastricht Treaty (although they pretty much waved through the Single European Treaty in the mid-80s. Dissident Tories set up fringe movements, such as the Referendum Party and, more successfully, UKIP as overtly eurosceptic political forces. Even so, the mainstream of the Conservative Party has over time drifted towards an antipathetic stance to the EU, as the influence of the moderate old guard such as Heseltine and Clarke waned in the 1990s.
But Cameron has really annoyed the people who would be the Tories more traditional allies in Europe, the centre right parties grouped in the European People’s Party (EPP). Firstly he withdrew the Tories from their alliance with the EPP, forming a new grouping with fringe right wing parties, mainly from Eastern Europe. The EPP made net gains in the 2009 elections, but could have been even stronger if the Tories and their new friends had joined them.
The choice of new partners for the Tories has also been contentious. The most natural grouping for them would have been the generally right wing, anti-federalist ‘Alliance of Independent Democrats’. However, they already had a UK-based party as leading members, UKIP. The Tories would not sit with UKIP and so put themselves in a position where they had to scout around for right wing parties that weren’t outright fascists in sufficient numbers and distribution to form a new group. As the bottom of the barrel was scraped, some dubious characters were signed up.
The most recent snub to the EPP was to try and stall the process of ratifying the Lisbon Treaty. After a long drawn out process, with some countries having a referendum (or in Ireland’s case two) and most putting the treaty through their parliaments, only the Czech Republic is left to sign it off. It was rumoured for some time that the President was holding off partly in response to a letter from a foreign politician who’d asked him to. Last week it was revealed that it was (as many had suspected) Cameron who had sent the letter.
The Czechs will go through their legal processes, and probably ratify later this month. The Tories will lose their main policy (to hold a referendum if it has not been fully ratified if and when they get elected) and now are set to come up with their Plan B – which is probably to try and negotiate as many ‘opt-outs’ as they can.
But who will they have to negotiate with? Well, the likes of Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy, who lead Germany and France and are in EPP parties. They are also supporters of the Lisbon Treaty and have taken a very dim view of attempts to derail it.
Now, I think that Labour has missed a big trick here. The ‘Blair for President’ campaign is stupid – the EPP will want one of their guys to take the job, and likely someone from a ‘smaller’ nation which would rule him out of the running on two counts – before you take into account any objections to the man himself. Brown and Labour would do better to avoid putting anyone forward for the top job. Let the Tories be the only UK party which is getting the cold shoulder in Europe – if they win the General Election, let’s see how much ‘Dave’ and his mates can get out of a Europe where pretty much every leader and most MEPs distrusts him before he’s even started.