Caroline Jackson, a Conservative MEP who is standing down this time, has gone into print in European Voice to criticise the decision to leave the EPP after the elections. (Read the article here.) This was a commitment made by David Cameron when he was running for Tory leader, and there is a suspicion that he did not really know what he was taking on. Walking out of a group in the European Parliament is very easy, but creating a new one is rather harder. He said once that it would take months, not years. In the end, if he does it, it will have taken years.
Caroline Jackson’s complaint is that Conservative interests will be weakened if the British Tories are not part of the EPP group. In the future regulation of financial services, for example, she fears that the British ability to stave off regulatory threats to the City of London will be reduced if a lot of British MEPs are consorting with the right wing fringe rather than sitting firmly in the mainstream.
Her point about the fringes is a good one. Minor parties, particularly on the right, tend to do better in European elections that they do in national elections. This means that political parties from other countries that might look like good partners on the strength of their national political performance might turn out to be rather less useful partners when it comes to sitting down together in Brussels. The other parties on the right that might offer themselves as potential partners in the future all present difficulties in one way or another. After all, this is why their candidates and voters are not supporting mainstream EPP member parties in the first place. They have problems with issues like gender equality, or gay rights, or racism, or climate change. They are the very antithesis of the image that David Cameron has been trying to adopt for his own party back in the UK.
Given that David Cameron said that the Tories should leave the federalist-inclined EPP because they should not say one thing in Westminster and a different thing in Brussels, he will find it hard to sit down with the League of Polish Families, for example.
Caroline Jackson’s warning about the loss of influence is just as real, but less relevant. It is less relevant because David Cameron does not care. He does not value the role of the European Parliament in shaping legislation, and does not believe that it has shaped legislation in a way that suits Britain. He is a Eurosceptic, after all. The way he intends to defend British interests in Europe is using the power and influence of the national government, not through the activities of MEPs in the European Parliament.
It is not surprising if Conservative MEPs are unhappy with this attitude. Voters might consider whether they want to be represented by MEPs who want to make the most of the opportunities presented to them, or MEPs who would prefer not to have those opportunities at all.