In the continuing saga of the Conservative membership of the EEP-ED group in the European parliament, Daniel Hannan adds the latest twist in his column in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday.
He writes of having spent the past week engaged in the angriest row with his superiors that he expects ever to have as a politician – something of which we were aware click here. As we understand it, he was very close to resigning from the Conservative Party.
However, according to Hannan, everything is now sweetness and light. Writing of the incident, he tells us that, following the European parliament elections:
Some of us saw the opportunity to break away from the federalists and forge an alliance of, so to speak, New Europe. Others felt that leaving the EPP would make us look marginal and extreme. Tempers flared. I had a number of what diplomats call "full and frank exchanges of views" with my party bosses.
I think the technical name for this is bullshit. It is a heavily sanitised version of what really happened, written as much for Hannan’s sake as ours. After all, he presented himself on the selection hustings – which put him No. 1 on the Tory candidates’ list for the South East Region – as refusing outright to join the EPP-ED, just as he promised in 1999.
Then, on Tuesday, Michael Howard announced the formation of a newly autonomous European Democrats group, comprised of British Tories and conservative parties from Portugal, Italy and the Czech Republic.
The ED is expressly committed to free enterprise, the nation-state and the Atlantic alliance. We hope to be joined by Eurosceptic parties from Poland, the Baltic countries and possibly Denmark.
The ED will be in a technical alliance with the EPP for certain administrative purposes, such as the allocation of committee posts, but will have its own officers, manifesto and whip, and sufficient resources to pursue its programme - beginning with a series of rallies to oppose the constitution.
That time, his self-imposed exclusion lasted a few weeks when, without any fanfare, he slid into the Group. And now he has done it again – despite his promise to his own Party electors. He needs to justify that move, and this he has done.
As to whether the new ED structure can survive is a moot point. If it is, as Hannan asserts, now a "technical alliance", then it contravenes European parliament rules for groups, which insist that groups share the same "constitution" – i.e., the same political principles. If they do not, they are termed as a "technical group" – note the use of the word "technical" - and are entitled to none of the funding or the other privileges afforded to properly constituted groups.
So, either the ED is a part of the EPP, and subscribes to its basic policies, or it is a "technical" ally, in which case it cannot be part of the group.
The trouble is with the European parliament is that its rules – like those in the rest of the EU – are infinitely flexible. They mean what the parliamentary authorities want them to mean, when they want them to mean whatever it is that they want them to mean – if you catch my drift. Something of the "Alice in Wonderland" here.
Therefore, for this arrangement to survive, the parliamentary authorities must turn a blind eye, unless one of the other groups makes a formal complaint, in which case they will be obliged to act. There could be an opportunity for UKIP here except that its Independence/Democracy Group would probably not survive scrutiny. Politicians in glass houses cannot afford to throw stones so that party will probably stay shtum.
But what it also means is that the Tories, in acting outside the rules of the club, probably cannot enforce its agreement with the rest of the EPP. If the EEP hierarchy renege on their side of the deal, there is nothing they can do about it.
Since the Tory leader, Jonathan Evans, was wholly opposed to the idea in the first place, he would probably not protest too much anyway. Thus, there is a danger that, after the furore has died down, the EPP-ED will drift back to its comfortable old ways – with the few Eurosceptic-orientated MEPs squawking on the outside. In other words, no real change.
Anyhow, the deal is clearly enough to soothe the consciences of Hannan and his fellow travellers, but the fact remains that, until the Tories actually break away completely and form their own group, they will always be tainted by their association with the ultra-federalist EPP.