Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Brussels Perspective on the EPP

I've just had an email from someone who I shall refer to as a Brussels insider, whose perspective on the EPP I thought I'd share with you.

The EPP is not a coherent group in the sense that the socialists are. It is more like one of the industrial conglomerates that were popular in the 1970s, combining tobacco, insurance and department stores. It has become the largest group in the Parliament by an agressive policy of growth for growth's sake and by simply appealing to people that by being part of a large group you have more influence.

As such it combines a number of parties, ranging from liberalisers (eg Swedish Moderates) to populists (the Italian Pensioners' Party). However, its dominant feature is social conservatism, to which its leadership subscribes, and which is very often of a religious and in particular Catholic nature.

The EPP is rightly described as the most pro-integration Group. But it is also very protectionist and poujadist, and this fits very oddly with the former. They are very supportive of the CAP and fisheries policy at a time when the Commission wants to reform them and they have obstructed attempts to liberalise services in Europe. They are also very unhelpful in the fight against fraud, and support export subsidies and trade barriers. Their position on economic issues is often to the left of the Labour Government's.

Of course, there are within the EPP many MEPs who think like we do on liberalisation and deregulation. And on some committees the EPP view is not far from our own. But they are normally outmanoeuvered by Hans-Gert Poettering and instead are thrown scraps: the EPP loves talking about the need for economic reform but they never do anything about it. Indeed, the two most important dossiers, on chemical regulation and on services liberalisation were both given to the socialists who have only just over a quarter of the MEPs, and who proceeded to dominate the outcome.

Instead, the EPP are most agitated by moral issues and issues of integration, like abortion, stem cell research, the constitution (and especially God's place in it). They are obsessed by Turkey and deeply hostile to its potential entry into Europe.

As for our influence, claims of such are spurious. They were of very little help on the Working Time Directive, and indeed a substantial minority (enough to ensure a defeat for the UK) voted against the EPP's voting list on this as they opposed Britain's opt out. Their watering down of the services directive (to the point where it is not worth the paper it is written on) was a craven piece of manoeuvering to satisfy the needs of the Grand Coalition in Germany. What influence we do have is a number of meaningless offices - a vice-president here, a coordinator there that satisfies individual members that they have personal influence, despite evidence to the contrary. The conventional wisdom here is supported by lobbyists, who prefer to deal with as few groups as possible and like saying to their clients that they know someone who is a member of the largest group.

Incidentally, it has been claimed that a number of our potential allies are unsavoury. But they are not more so than those we are set to leave. Berlusconi's recent campaign was openly anti-gay and many in the EPP are very hostile to Islam.

I could go on. In essence, the Conservatives need to form an alliance with those whose main focus is on Europe's chronic need for reform; and if some of them are not eurosceptic, so be it. Until then we are stuck in a group dominated by a Rhineland mentality that is as outdated as the Cold War.


malcolm said...

I have heard similar thoughts expressed on the EPP before.Hague should be preparing the ground for quitting by exposing EPP s policies as you have at every opportunity.
What no one has ever been able to explain to me is why we have to sit with others at all.

Lagwolf said...

A little bit of hostility to Islam might be a good idea. It certainly better than the sycophantic approach of some many politicians in Europe.

Cranmer said...

its dominant feature is social conservatism, to which its leadership subscribes, and which is very often of a religious and in particular Catholic nature

Hmmm... I've heard this before. But the PPC who said it was sacked by the Tory Party for daring to say it. I'm not surprised your 'inside source' wants to remain anonymous.

bt said...

So, is anyone surprised?
I doubt it.
It's business as usual in the world of politics, i.e. "don't worry your little head about it, we know what we're doing," though I never expected Hague to roll over like a poodle, he had some principles once.

The more 'thoughts' Dear Dave or his hench-wimps slip out to the MSM - 'delay' (ha!) repudiating EEP; not really interested in tearing up the EU Fishing fiasco ("We'll influence policy from within." Again- ha!); "aren't public servants wonderful?"; hints of a redistributive tax policy, etc., etc., the more it gives one pause to wonder what the hell is going on.

Iain, you may well have your own reasons for spouting the party orthodoxy, but there's a lot of people out there who are starting to gag on the anodyne crap that's being offered as New Age Conservatism.

"Oh, it'll be different once he's in No.10," they say. Got any evidence for that bit of wishful thinking? It's starting to look as if WYSIWYG - and it's a soft-centre Blairite clone. Outside the metropolis the natives are starting to get restless and if he doesn't nail some principles to the mast soon then UKIP (or worse) could get an awful lot of ex-tory votes.

BondWoman said...

So...where are these potential allies?How about the Conservatives join the ELDR...?

Ellee Seymour said...

The problem is finding 4 other like minded groups, the number required I believe, that our Cons MEPs can join up with, there aren't any, else it would have happened by now. They cannot be a solitary voice, but part of a group.

Also, I don't believe they have met David Cameron as a group to discuss this, and we are talking about mega and sweeping changes.

Simon said...

Having read Hague's comments on Conservative Home, think I can see the line he's trying to draw, but my own feeling is that it needs to be drawn much more distinctly. This is an area where Conservatives can establish clear differentiation from Labour and we must ensure that we do so effectively. Reading the EPP's website brought home to me just how unrealistic the ideals of a federal Europe are.

Serf said...

What no one has ever been able to explain to me is why we have to sit with others at all.

Malcolm, its all about money and influence.

Cash and positions are giving out on a (European) party basis. In order to qualify, you need to have representatives from 5 member states and a certain number of MEPs (I forget how many).

For the Conservative party the number of MEPs is not a problem, but the 5 member states is.

Without a recognised grouping, you are no more than a group of independents.

That said, I would personally go without rather than stay in a grouping whose policies are the exact opposite of my own.

malcolm said...

Thanks Serf.My thoughts exactly!

Richard Bailey said...

Iain, I think it is only fair that you comment on / defend yourself against the sentiments in the London Evening Standard article yesterday. You rightly promote the moments when your blog is a force for good and I hope that you would defend your blog when it provokes angst.

Also, the Leader of UKIP wrote a letter in the Telegraph yesterday inviting the Tories to be in their EU group. Can someone enlighten me as to why that is such a bad idea or why it never seems to be talked about. Wouldn't it help to deflate UKIP (responsible for costing us 10?? seats in 2005)?

Iain Dale said...

Richard, as you well know, writing a blog is a danger in itself and if you write bland things no one reads them. If you read the whole of the article I wrote on the EPP a couple of days ago you would see that it was actually reasonably balanced and called for people to calm down. However, I did use one phrase related to Liam Fox's leadership supporters which I suppose could have been toned down a little. It's easy to look at it with hindsight. However, I totally stand by the whole of the article and the contents.

As to your UKIP point, get real. There is not a snowball's chance in hell of us going in with UKIP. Mainly because the Party dies not agree with UKIP's central aim for existing!

And by the way, what's happened to your blog. Last time i looked you hadn't updated it for a month!

Gary Elsby said...

It doesn't surprise me that some truer blue Conservatives in here are disappointed at Dave and Willie over the EU.

You all know that you lost the last three elections on various issues and not just one.

You who do not subscribe to Europe believe that the EU is 'telling us what to do'.

From where I stand, the EU is giving me and my family a massive lift.I don't expect you to understand or agree but when push comes to shove, you will berate the EU for everything and me and my kind will be saying thank you.

To prove my point and to confirm why Dave and Willie (who knows), name ten good things that the EU has done for you and our country?
For those of you that hate it, name just one.


The Remittance Man said...

This whole eu thing is getting a bit boring.

We don't like it because it allows the froggies and others to dip their hands into our pockets to fund their own flawed domestic policies. We also have stand idly by as foreigners blithely ignore club rules which we reluctantly obey out of some misplaced sense of loyalty.

They don't like us because we object to this pickpocketting and hypocrisy. Also because we seem to enjoy demanding they change their ways rather than us changing ours. Finally we seem to take a perverse delight in kicking the crap out of the club and exposing its every failure.

Given the above, surely it would be better for one and all if Britain resigned from the club and we all agreed simply to talk and trade on equal terms. What the other members do is then entirely up to them.


Gary Elsby said...

Remitance man has given not one example of EU good.

The last time Conservatives ran this country, you signed every paper put in front of you.

You are now a little party that wants to sit in a little group and you want Europe to be little as well.
We, the great British public,want you to do as little as possible in making any decision other than making yourselves little.

You believe that Europe is a nothing.The public aren't that bothered (until decision day) and want to isolate Britain from the biggest and most successful political experiment of all time.

Tell me you are kidding?


Anonymous said...

Define successful?

In what way? Economically? I don't think so. Show me some figures that say the eurozone or the CAP was a resounding success for the European economy.

Ethically? I don't think so either. They can't even sign off their accounts, the institution is so rotten. And it fails on openness, did you know they don't even record the vote? Hansard it aint.

From a purely selfish point of view? Given we pay more into the EU than we draw from it there isn't even a base bribery motive to remain within it.

Gary Elsby said...

Why should the Consevative party set up an institution where they pay more in than get out?

Seems odd doesn't it?