The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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Lobby fodder

Dr Lee Rotherham

Critics of the most recent meetings of the Convention have accused the organisers of hosting events redolent of “Brussels talking to Brussels”.

They have a point.

The latest events have been the Youth Convention, and the Forum. Both have hardly been democratically inspiring.

The former had some promise. Two hundred under-25s turned up in Brussels for a week to organise a mini-Convention. Unfortunately, thanks to the way in which many were selected, the place seemed packed with Convention Mini-Mes instead. Indeed, as a number of delegates soon found out to their outrage, the Youth wings of the main political parties had already met and stitched up a number of the key elections for posts. Amusingly, when it was discovered that the Chair thus selected was over the maximum age limit, it was left to MEPs to broker a new deal.

The stitch up was so blatant that over fifty of the delegates – that’s a quarter of the entire number – signed a protest declaration, knocking the validity of the event on its head.

But that, of course, is what one has come to expect of Brussels. The Forum for its part was meant to be an opportunity for ordinary people from across the continent to contribute. How? Through NGOs.

The problem was, the NGOs invited to contribute were, overwhelmingly, fellow travellers in the integartionist route. The European Movement, for instance, was multiply blessed by being represented through bodies to which it was federated, as well as through its new, secretive, front organisation, Agora.

A majority of these groups receive Communities money for their activities, either directly (such as the Young European Federalists, JEF) or the European Movement (whose head office receives an annual grant). Others have received grants for specific projects, and live in hope of more. Others have received background support, like Agora, which welcomed Vice-President of the Convention Jean-Luc Dehaene to one of its meetings to brief it on how he would be conducting the Forum.

And people wonder why the EU is so distrusted…