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.