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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.
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.

Conservative MEPs and the European People's Party: Time for Divorce

Paper No. 36

Martin Ball
Jonathan Collett


A crucial and ultimately determining issue awaits the Conservative Party immediately after the 1999 European Election. It is whether the elected Conservative MEPs decide to again link up with the European People's Party as they have since 1992. The EPP, an avowedly federalist and Christian Democratic grouping, could not present a greater contrast to the Conservative Party William Hague is trying to create. He has declared his vision to be of a modern, democratic, self confident and anti–federalist Party.

A formal link–up may prove superficially attractive to MEPs. They would be part of one of the two largest groupings within the European Parliament, and would thus retain links with parties in the majority of EU member states. The hospitality and entertainment of the EPP are legendary. But what signals would such a link up convey? There are huge cultural, philosophical and ideological differences between the secular and non–denominational Conservative tradition and that of the Christian Democrats.

Jacques Santer, the former President of the EPP and President of the European Commission who is soon likely to be an MEP in Luxembourg and thus again a member of the EPP declared on the 8th November 1988 that:

"We are indebted to a great tradition. From Konrad Adenauer to Robert Schuman, Alcide de Gasperi to Joseph Bech, we Christian Democrats have, ever since the Second World War, continuously stood up for the further democratic development of the Community. We Christian Democrats in the European People's Party want the European Community to become the United States of Europe."1

In contrast William Hague declared in Budapest on 13th May 1999:

"All true Europeans should rebel against the notion that democracy could be made to function in some form of trans–continental superstate."

"What I am saying is that just as in every restaurant every diner is not required to order the same food from the menu, nor should members of the European Union be forced to sign up to every policy coming out of Brussels."2

The present Conservative Party position is the result of an intensive and often painful decade of debate. Since Margaret Thatcher's Bruges Speech of September 1988 Conservatives have been forced to re–evaluate their attitudes and instincts on European integration. It would have been inconceivable that Conservative MEPs would have countenanced membership of the EPP during her tenure. They did so mainly because of Chris Patten's determined efforts as Party Chairman and the enthusiastic encouragement of Helmut Kohl during John Major's period of "Heart of Europe" enthusiasm.

Thomas Jansen, the former Secretary General and historian of the EPP states:

"One of the key preconditions for admitting the Conservative MEPs to the EPP group, which eventually took place on 1st May 1992, was evidently Mrs Thatcher's resignation as British Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party, and John Major's willingness to pursue a different policy on Europe. But Helmut Kohl's determination was critical. Given the imminent enlargement of the European Union, he had strategic reasons for wanting to open the EPP to the Conservatives. Without Kohl, the breakthrough would not have come so soon."3

In hindsight John Major's "Heart of Europe" policy can be seen as a failure in that it did not win Britain more influence but instead resulted in Britain being dragged deeper into a political union in the EU, with huge swathes of power being transferred to Brussels institutions. That period has now passed and, painful as it was, Conservatives have learned from this mistake.

Throughout the Major period, the Conservative rank and file remained resolutely and strongly Euro–sceptic. This was indicated by internal and external polling, by the Conservative Conference motions put forward by local Conservative Associations4 and by the huge turnouts at Euro–sceptic fringe events at Conservative Party Conferences. Conservatives consistently favoured a loose, accountable freely trading Europe of independent and co–operating nation states. They wanted to retain a sovereign Britain and for the British people to be able to govern themselves.

Under William Hague's fresh approach and democratisation of the Party following the 1997 Leadership Election, those grass roots are now able to give vent to their feelings. In October 1998 84% of Conservative activists declared that they supported Hague's policy of ruling out British membership of a single currency at the next election. Those same activists would be horrified to learn of the unashamedly federalist nature of the grouping to which their MEPs have affiliated. In a modern, democratic Party elected MEPs must take account of those activists within their Party and of the voters who elected them. We now live in an age where action must meet rhetoric and elected representatives must be accountable to those whom they serve.

There has never been any question of the EPP adapting to accommodate or tolerate such thinking or even of its agreeing to disagree with those of a Conservative or anti–federalist tradition. Jansen declares:

"The European People's Party's destiny, as I see it, is a double one. It must contribute to the unification of Europe by bringing together like minded political forces. On the other hand, its job is to help bring about the cultural and political breakthrough of "Christian Democracy".

"Those responsible for the EPP's development owe allegiance to tradition, and to the political programme. That is not just a personal obligation, and one to those whose work they are building on; it is also a duty to those who have joined the EPP from other traditions. If the EPP's identity as a European federalist and Christian Democrat oriented party were lost, its cohesion would be in danger."5

Conservative MEPs have in the past claimed that their relationship with the EPP is not a deep or binding one. This paper will show that this has not been the case and that, on the contrary, they have long been deeply enmeshed. For instance James Provan MEP is currently the Chief Whip of the EPP parliamentary group. The organisational structure and machinations of the European Parliament do not require Tory MEPs to be a part of such a grouping as a necessity. Instead, as we shall show, there are other far more attractive alternatives. If Conservative MEPs still desire to vote with the EPP on certain issues they will be able to do so. But how can a group with the desired objective of opposing a federal Europe and of stopping Britain being run by Europe be part of a larger group whose loudly expressed purpose is the creation of a United States of Europe?

The two competing visions are impossible to reconcile. If the Conservative MEPs do decide again to become members of the EPP, it will be hard to believe the validity of their main electoral slogan that they want to be "in Europe but not run by Europe."6 It will be harder still to reconcile the publicly stated policies of the Conservative leadership with the action of that Party's MEPs. The choice is unavoidable and clear. There cannot be two different Conservative parties, one with an agenda at Westminster and the other with an opposed agenda in Brussels and Strasbourg.

The European People's Party

The European People's Party is the Christian Democratic grouping in the European Parliament. It was formed in April 1976 to unite Europe's Christian Democratic parties in advance of the first direct elections to the European Parliament in 1979 with the intention to co–ordinate the efforts of the Centre–Right continental parties in any moves towards policy harmonisation. The roots of the EPP go back to European Coal and Steel Community Common Assembly where the Christian Democratic Group was established.

Its commitment to a federal 'United States of Europe' was there from the start. The Basic Programme of the EPP declares that:

"From the very start of the process of European integration after the Second World War, the Christian democratic founding fathers of the European Communities focused on the fundamental human and social dimension of their vision of the future of the peoples of Europe. Forty years later, we can see that their vision has borne fruit on an impressive scale: European unification and the European Community have been the salient factors in the history of the second part of this century."7

According to the then Group Chairman the EPP is:

" the group of the European federalists . . . the most enthusiastic supporters of the European Union."8

The parliamentary group has 201 Members (MEPs) drawn from all EU Member States and is currently the second largest grouping in the European Parliament. The EPP Group is currently chaired by Wilfried Martens, who is also President of the EPP Party. Their policy position is determined by five working groups, which co–ordinates its members' parliamentary work in the 20 committees. The conclusions of the working groups are reported to the whole EPP Group and it then decides upon what policy positions to adopt in the plenary sessions of the European Parliament.

Alongside the parliamentary section, the EPP Party is also a separate EU–wide political organisation. It has an eight strong presidency which ensures the party's permanent political presence. There is a Council, which meets quarterly, made up of Member Party Presidents and secretaries–generals, EU Commissioners close to the EPP and the EPP Presidency. There is a Political Bureau which decides on all the key strategic decisions, and a Congress which meets every two years to decide upon the EPP political programmes and to elect the Presidency. Five working groups formulate common positions and strategies on topical issues. Prior to EU Summits the EPP Party facilitates meetings for EPP heads of government, the EPP Presidency and presidents of the Commission and the EU parliament, where they agree on common political positions at the European level.

According to Jansen, the EPP is more advanced than its political opponents in creating a pan–European political party:

"The EPP is without question further down the path to becoming a trans or supra–national party than the socialists, the greens or the Liberals."9

The Policies of the EPP

"EPP member parties in the different Community countries had portrayed themselves as "European parties". The EPP itself demanded that governments press forward on the road to a federal organisation. The measures that would lead to this supranational Europe were set out in the EPP's programme and the programme and the programmes of its national and regional structures."10

EPP policy is clearly revealed via its Basic Programme, its Action Programme 1999–2004 and its manifesto for the 1999 European Election "A Europe of Opportunities". The Basic Programme was adopted by the IX EPP Congress held in Athens in November 1992. The Action Programme was adopted by the XIII EPP Congress held in Brussels on 4–6 February 1999.

For the EPP the introduction of the euro is only the start and they want to take the integrationist agenda much further.

"We have already taken a great step forward towards European integration by introducing the Single Currency. But the euro is not the final objective, nor a mere technical improvement. For the EPP it is the foundation stone of what we intend to be a new era, one which will bring Europe closer to its citizens in a bewildering time."11

EPP Policy Commitments

A foreign policy for Europe
This new era will entail the EU having one external voice:

"We must act as one on the international scene. Together we carry more weight in our relations with other countries. Europe needs a Common Foreign and Security Policy to enable it to defend our values and interests."

17."The EPP demands a determined application of the new instruments which have been developed in the framework of Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)"

"It is therefore essential that the Union should in future have an international legal personality"

A European seat at the UN
1. "The European Union needs a Common Foreign and Security Policy to make it a political power capable of acting in accordance with its values and common interests."

5. EU Member States which are permanent or temporary members of the UN Security Council should not just represent themselves, but deliberately and systematically promote EU policy."

A European seat at the IMF...
13. "To give the Currency Union a strong voice outside the EU, the EPP calls for the President of the European Central Bank (ECB), and the Commissioner responsible for currency questions, to be represented at meetings of International Monetary Fund bodies."

...and at the WTO
19. "In the field of external economic relations, the Union should be responsible for all issues being dealt with within framework of the WTO and, as a general rule, the Commission should be endowed by the Council and the European Parliament with general negotiating powers."

Integration of the WEU
18. "The EPP favours the integration into the EU of the Western European Union (WEU). The WEU should become the defence element of the Union and the European pillar of NATO."

"Whether or not to participate in such operations should be a decision for each Member State, but the financial burden should be shared by all Member States, and, at the end of this process, be included in the budgetary procedure."

A common European income tax
The EPP wants to establish a federal budget within the EU; holding tax raising powers:

Basic Programme 212–3. "The Union must be given all the means necessary for the achievement of its objectives and the implementation of its policies. It will therefore be given a federal–type budget with sufficient resources managed on a "progressive" basis, taking into account the relative prosperity of each member state. In this connection, the EPP is in favour of a direct relationship between the European Community and the taxpayer, thereby also giving the European Parliament direct responsibility vis a vis the taxpayer."

A European police force
6. "Now that the Europol Convention has been ratified, the remaining hurdles must be overcome to enable Europol to undertake the tasks assigned to it. In due course, Europol should be accorded executive and operational powers thereby making it possible to pursue crime effectively. Europol should be financed from of the EU budget, and be subject to judicial and democratic review by the Court of Justice and the European Parliament."

13. "Consideration should be given to the establishment of some kind of European public prosecutor for a limited number of cross–border offences."

3. "They have to reform their fragile political systems and create stable democracies based unambiguously on the rule of law; adopt the principles of a market economy; settle regional conflicts; and establish stable relations of mutual trust with neighbouring countries and with Europe as a whole."

Citizens of Europe
9. "EU citizenship should be further developed as an expression of a sense of belonging to, and identification with, the Union."

A European Constitution
The EPP calls for a European Constitution incorporating a Bill of Rights.

10. "As proposed by the Draft Constitution of the European Parliament, the European Union needs a constitution in order to define the specific decision–making processes of the different institutions of the Union, and the competencies of the Union, individual Member States, and regions, in accordance with the principles of subsidiarity. Furthermore, this Constitution must include a Bill of Rights which accords with the European Convention on Human Rights."

Phasing out the veto
12. "The Council's legislative decisions must in principle be taken by majority for a transitional period, decisions on changes to the treaties, enlargement of the Union or increases in own resources should continue to be adopted unanimously, and ratified by the Member States and by the European Parliament."

"Furthermore, it is necessary to introduce a re–weighting of votes within the Council. Alternatively double majority voting should be introduced which takes Member States' relative population–size into account."

"The co–decision procedure must apply to all fields of European legislation, including agricultural policy."

Strengthening the Commission
13. "The EPP seeks a strong and independent European Commission which continues to be the driving force behind the Union and one which will grow into the genuine executive power of the Union. The Commission is the guardian of the treaties and therefore represents the Union's interests. It must be independent and retain the monopoly of legislative initiative. The Commission ought, in the future, to further develop its efficiency, effectiveness, and control of the financial interests of the Union. Individual Commissioners must, as a matter of course, act only in the interest of the Union as a whole. Once a re–weighting of votes in the Council has been agreed, we wish to see all Member States represented by a maximum of one Commissioner per state, as set out in the Institutional Protocol of the Treaty of Amsterdam."

Strengthening the European Parliament
15. "In order to create equality between MEPs and to avoid the existing distortions, a uniform and transparent statute for MEPs should be approved by the Council, as developed by the European Parliament, in accordance with the Treaty of Amsterdam."

BP236 "The European parliament must "have the final say on constitutional and legislative matters."

A common voting system
16. "The European People's Party strongly believes in the necessity of agreeing on common principles for an electoral law in time for the 2004 European Elections."

European Political Parties
20. "The EPP strongly urges the implementation of Article 138A of the Treaty of Maastricht (Article 191 of the Treaty of Amsterdam) resulting in a broader development of European–wide political parties, such as European support for better contacts with voters, policy development, training and educational activities."

Uniform European Electoral Law
22. "The EPP undertakes to defend within the European Parliament the principle of parity of representation of Europe's elected representatives."

Cultural Identity
26. "To bring to life the cultural area common to Europe's people"

Co–ordination of National Economic Policies
7. "The success of the economic and currency union will largely be determined by the degree to which national finance and wage policies are consistent with common monetary policy."

A European transport policy
16. "The common European transport policy is of central importance for economic recovery and social cohesion in the EU. We need a uniform growth–oriented and environmentally safe transport area in order to make the internal market a reality and to promote economic growth and respect for the environment."

19. "In order to achieve environmentally safer use of the various modes of transport, the costs of using infrastructure must be charged effectively and uniformly to the individual modes of transport in the EU."

Trade Unions and Employers
12. "The EPP actively supports the legislature planning for such dispositions, and calls upon the trade unions and employers' organisations to reorganise their collective negotiations to ensure social dialogue within the European Union."

Equality of Men and Women
9. "We propose a reduction in working time by taking a whole career into account in the form of a time–credit, with the same model applicable to everyone, which would be compulsory to take during a person's working life, in consultation with the social partners."

10. "On the employment issue, the EPP will support all measures which allow for suppressing effective discrimination against women in recruitment practices, salary, and promotion."

12. "In education and training, the media plays a decisive role in the transmission of values and the socio–cultural roles attributed to men and women. Apart from the training of educators and teachers (see Chapter V), the EPP demands that the European Union establish rules to be respected by the media to ensure that they broadcast an image which values women."

14. "The EPP attaches a special quality to Sundays as a day for common meditation, family life and recreation for as many people as possible."

Teachers qualifications
21. "The concepts of 'gender' and 'interculturalism' must be integrated into the training programmes for teachers and educators."

22. "Teacher–training must help to place teachers in a framework of European citizenship and durable development."

14. "This will also involve surveillance of so–called tax–havens on territories associated with the EU, and an examination of Member States' legislation on banking secrecy."

A Common Immigration and Asylum Policy
1. "Agreed common regulations on immigration and asylum in the European Union are of decisive importance to the European People's Party."

2. "Divergent laws and procedures in the EU do not make sense. The introduction of a common immigration and asylum policy is a priority for the coming years."

Harmonising environmental policies
1. "The EPP emphasises the necessity for a common European policy on the environment."

3. "On environmental issues, the Council in principle decides by qualified majority. Where it does not, QMV should be introduced."

4. "In this connection, the EPP supports complementing environmental laws with voluntary agreements, and an energy tax harmonised on a Europe–wide basis, one which does not affect the overall level of tax or damage competition, and also environmental taxes."

An energy tax
11. "An energy tax harmonised on a European basis, and based on the amount of CO2 emission, could be an instrument in achieving these objectives."

18. "The EPP commits itself to the development of a common EU policy to protect water ... all in line with a future European framework directive on water."

* * *

The EPP agenda and action plan is in short a blueprint for a federal United States of Europe.

Conservative MEPs & European Parliamentary Groupings

In the period after British entry into the EEC relations between Conservative Party nominees and the Christian Democrats were described by The Economist as being in 'bad shape'.12 Towards the end of the 1970s relations improved as both groups invited each other to their meetings to give presentations.

Political scientist Nigel Ashford identified four reasons why co–operation was likely to be difficult. Firstly, the Christian Democratic parties take the Christian element seriously and are thus suspicious of a secular Conservative Party. Secondly, there has been a mis–interpretation on the Continent of the word conservative as meaning fascist or reactionary. Thirdly, the Christian Democrats have strong ties with Christian trade unionists. Fourthly, most of the Christian Democratic parties have formed coalition governments with socialist parties.13

The political scientist Andrew Gamble observes that "rationalist Conservatism in the grand Continental manner has never flourished in the ranks of the English Tories, who have generally preferred scepticism and philistine common sense".14

A study prepared for the EPP highlighted the difference between the traditions of Christian Democracy and the more market–orientated British Conservatism:

"At best Anglo–American 'neo–liberal' conservatives might accept the welfare state as politically unavoidable, a necessary evil. Christian Democracy has a less enthusiastic view of the market and a more benign conception of the state, which reflects the movement's fundamentally different philosophical point of departure. For Christian Democracy, true human fulfilment is the result of full development within an organic society, not of complete individual success in an atomised society."15

Following the first direct election to the European Parliament in 1979, the Conservative Party MEPs with a 60–member delegation, formed the European Democratic Group (EDG) with the support of Danish and Spanish MEPs. Although there were no formal ties with the EPP they co–operated closely.

The ranks of the EDG were severely depleted as the number of Conservative MEPs elected in 1984 dropped to 45 and then subsequently fell to 32 after the 1989 election. The response to this decline in stature was for the remaining Conservative MEPs to seek a fresh approach to relations within the European Parliament and after the 1992 UK General Election they sought to formalise relations with the European People's Party.

A European Democratic Group publication noted how the EDG had established good working relations with other centre and centre–right political groups stating:

"Of particular importance are the group's close links with the largest of these groups, the Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats). Joint meetings have been held with the EPP Group, and the leaders and spokesmen of the two groups consult each other regularly on matters arising both in committee and in plenary sessions."16

An early 1990s Conservatives in the European Parliament publication prophetically claimed:

"There is a possibility that, before long, the group will establish a formal link with the Christian Democrats while preserving its own identity."17

The parliamentary re–alignment was presented less as a philosophical shift than as a need to gain influence for the diminished band of Conservative MEPs, although it was argued that the two had more in common than divided them. Writing in the Conservative Party's own newspaper, the then Leader of the Conservative MEPs, Christopher Prout, outlined why he believed the new relationship to be appropriate. He said:

"Continental Christian Democrats occupy roughly the same position on the political spectrum as the Conservative Party. Where there seems to be division, it is often a question of vocabulary rather than substance."18

Lord Beloff saw it differently:

"The Conservatives found themselves in an even more difficult position since the British Conservative Party has no exact continental counterparts. Efforts to build bridges with the German CDU and other Christian Democratic parties ran into trouble since 'Christian Democracy' has been and remained an essential in the continental coalition prising for more rapid and far–reaching steps towards integration. The result was that by the elections of June 1994 Conservative MEPs were from the European Parliament's point of view members of the European People's Party whose programme was the opposite of the goal of a looser Europe enunciated by the Prime Minister, John Major".19

Not every member of the EPP were joyous at the prospect of the entry of British Conservatives. The Dutch and the Belgians were opposed because of lingering resentment to the UK's opposition to the Social Chapter and the single currency. According to a leading academic on European affairs the reason that the Conservative MEPs had been excluded from the EPP group was because of:

"the perceived Euro–scepticism and over zealous economic liberalism of the UK Conservative Government . . ."20

The lack of a formal role for religion within the Conservative party was also regarded as one of the main obstacles to the Conservative MEPs joining with the EPP.21 But the Financial Times believed it knew why the EPP had previously been less than enthusiastic and gave the responsibility for this situation to Margaret Thatcher:

"The Tory MEPs had little chance of being admitted to the EPP Group so long as she was party Leader."22

Once she was gone the courting could begin, and following intense negotiations (in which Conservative party Chairman, Chris Patten, played the leading role) in April 1992 the EPP voted to accept the British application for allied membership, and Conservative MEPs were formally welcomed into the Group on 1st May 1992.

Conservative MEPs lavishly praised the link–up and Conservative group leader, Christopher Prout referred to them as "friends". Their joy at the new marriage is best captured in a Conservatives in the European parliament publication explaining their work.

"The alliance with the European People's Party has given the Conservatives a much stronger base in European politics. Whereas they used to be fourth in the batting order they are now in the second largest group . . . No longer "the lost tribe", as some journalists called them, the Conservatives have a new effectiveness in working out joint policy with the Christian Democrats. Some Conservative jibbed at the idea of a merger (and so did some of the Christian Democrats!) but, as Sir Christopher Prout pointed out, the two parties share a common approach to nearly all the political issues of the day."23

Not everybody was so impressed with the new arrangements and the leading euro–sceptic figure and former Conservative Party Chairman Lord Tebbit exploded:

"The European People's Party is a federalist party; it believes in a central European State in which Great Britain and the various other parts of the Community would be provinces . . . Now that's totally and completely unacceptable and yet our European Members of Parliament are allied to the EPP."24

The beginnings of an exposure of the EPP agenda so worried Conservative MEPs that a vigorous campaign was launched to rebut the charge that they were committed to support the EPP policy. Christopher Prout wrote letters to UK newspapers defending the loose arrangement of ties. According to Prout, the MEPs were not guilty as charged. This was because they were only "allied members of the European People's Party Parliamentary Group".25 To emphasise his point, he styled himself:

"Sir Christopher Prout, QC, MEP for Shropshire and Stafford (European People's Party Parliamentary Group (Conservative))"

Whereas previously he had signed off as:
"European People's Party (Conservative)"

His successor as Leader of the Conservative MEPs was less particular in how he styled himself. In the notes about the authors of a publication discussing European themes in advance of another Inter–Governmental Conference, Tom Spencer MEP is described as the "Chairman of the Conservatives in the European Parliament (British Section of the European People's Party Group)".26

A number of the Conservative MEPs were even less circumspect. Former Conservative MEP Lord Bethell admitted that they had "agreed to accept" the EPP policy agenda in full because "otherwise they would not have let us in".27

At that time the EPP Leader Leo Tindemans was in no doubt that the Conservative MEPs had signed up to the whole ideological package. His position was underlined by an official:

"They are all members of the Christian Democrat party. They agree that the policies and positions of the group are based on the programmes of the European People's Party."28

Before the 1994 Election Mr Tindemans reminded the Conservative MEPs what they had signed up for back in May 1992:

"The new members have individually signed their acceptance of the rules and have subscribed to the fundamental policies of the EPP action programmes adopted in 1988, as well as the final declaration of the Dublin Congress in November 1990, which carried the title For a Federal Constitution for the European Union."29

Working closely with the Conservative MEPs placated even the Dutch. The Dutch Christian Democrat Jean Penders was initially distrustful but changed his mind saying:

"they have more than lived up to their promises."30

The 1994 European Elections presented more problems for the Conservative MEPs in endeavouring to explain away the precise nature of their link with the EPP. Fully aware that the MEPs would campaign on a separate British Conservative manifesto, EPP President Wilfried Martens ruled out any attempts by Conservative candidates to dissociate themselves from the EPP's own manifesto and re–iterated how the manifesto would form the basis of a loyalty test in the new Parliament. (The Guardian, 26th February 1994.) The Times' Peter Riddell understood the situation to be that:

"While Tory MEPs have an opt–out from the EPP manifesto commitments on the social chapter and monetary union, they will have to accept other pledges of closer integration if they wish to remain within the EPP grouping."31

The EPP Constitution is quite unequivocal on the position of allied members and states:

"The Christian Democratic parties of the member countries and their Group in the European Parliament make up the European People's Party."32

It is certainly the case, however, that Conservative MEPs draw less of a distinction between 'allied' and 'full' membership. For example, the biographical details of all Conservative MEPs describe themselves simply as member of the European People's Party (not Conservative or allied Members) on the members directory of the official EPP parliamentary website. At the time of the link up the Conservative MEPs were quite prepared to describe themselves as being "now fully integrated with the EPP".33 In addition, the EPP was provided with an office at Conservative Central Office, the Headquarters of the Conservative Party.

Similarly, the Conservatives in the European Parliament's newsletter did not shy away from publicising links with the EPP. Just why were some MEPs so sensitive about the nature of their involvement in the EPP was never explained. The furore over the exact relationship between the Conservative MEPs and the EPP became so important that it was felt necessary to include a lengthy explanation in the July 1995 Conservatives in the European Parliament publication, 'A Guide to the British Section of the EPP Group'.

The Conservative Party's relationship with its own MEPs

The relationship between the Conservative MEPs and the Party's Leadership was very fraught whilst Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minster, reaching its nadir during the 1989 European elections. Towards the end of her Premiership, however, Mrs Thatcher held out an olive branch to her party's MEPs, whom she had been accused of ignoring, by inviting them to meet with her early in 1990. They, for their part, tried to play down differences with her over monetary and political union, in order to persuade her that Norman Tebbit's charge they were disposed to go native and desert Conservatism was wrong. Although only a few would confess to being federalists, a number wanted to establish a unitary central authority in Europe according to Shirley Robin Letwin.34

The likely tensions between MEPs and grassroots members over the merits and purpose of the link up with the EPP was described by Anne Applebaum. She opined that most MEPs "believe that to have any influence they must remain allied to the Christian Democrat European Peoples Party" while many ordinary members feel that "by joining this parliamentary alliance the Tories will eventually be forced into some ghastly Euro–party led by Helmut Kohl or some other Euro–politician, thereby losing their identity altogether".35

From the start of the link–up with the EPP most Conservative activists were suspicious of the relationship and one newspapers commentator relayed the words of an EPP official of the prospects for a distinctive British Conservative voice:

"They will be subsumed," said one official sonorously, implying that Tory ideology, at least in Strasbourg, was about to be swallowed up by the centrist Christian Democrats . . ."36

The fear of the grassroots was that Conservative MEPs might go native. Tony Marlow probably spoke for many when he said: "most of the Tory members at Strasbourg are Euro–fanatics".37

Most MEPs have denied such claims. There does seem to have been a difference between their rhetoric in Britain, at election time and during candidate selection procedures, and with their actions within the European Parliament.

Lord Beloff stated:

"But the growing impatience of the Euro–sceptics in the British Conservative Party made it difficult to fight a convincing when many of its candidates for the European Parliament were on the party's other wing. The European People's Party added to these difficulties by drafting a strongly federalist manifesto, including the social chapter, though it was stated that their associates, the British Conservative MEPs, were not bound by it. How MEPs could act in opposition to the grouping of which they formed part was not clear.

"The surviving Conservative MEPs were to provide with some exceptions a continued irritant to the party as a whole, tending to treat themselves as the voice of Brussels at Westminster rather than the reverse, as was shown in the course of the Party Conference in October 1995."38

Electoral euro–sceptic trimming and vote seeking by many European parliamentary candidates has not allayed all worries. There is still a suspicion that once elections are out of the way, then elected MEPs will revert to character and resume their love–in with advocates of a federal Europe. The present leader of Conservative MEPs, Edward McMillan–Scott, has warned candidates that life in the European Parliament is different to that at Westminster. "I hope they know what they are doing. This is a very different institution which is less confrontational than the Commons."39

Can Conservative MEPs remain allied with the EPP?

It is impossible for the present Leadership to pretend it is in sympathy with the thrust of the EPP policy agenda. Some Conservative MEPs may oppose any severing of the ties, either for philosophical reasons or the more base desire to have the trappings of a large parliamentary grouping.

For example, the EPP's favoured candidate for Commission President Romano Prodi rejected the a la carte Europe sought by William Hague.

Conservative Youth sections have previously disassociated themselves from their Christian Democrat equivalents. In 1994 The National Young Conservative disaffiliated from DEMYC and established a grouping of European Young Conservatives. In a publication distributed at the 1995 National Young Conservative Annual Conference an article about the first birthday of the European Young Conservatives claimed that the organisation is the only organisation in Europe committed to uniting young people around the banner of Conservatism. It looked forward to the day when the respective senior parties would similarly join together and called for Tory MEPs to "end their shameful links with the Christian Democrats".40

In the last two years Conservative youth organisations have also refused to join the Young European People's Party (YEPP) the youth section of the EPP. Very recently Conservative Future, the Conservative Party's new Youth organisation, dissented from a manifesto of the European Democratic Students. Their noted objection demonstrates the fundamental division between British Conservatism and continental Christian Democracy:

"Conservative Future is unable to endorse a document that supports further European integration and surrendering of national sovereignty, and, as such, does not support this manifesto."41

Conservative MEPs would not be the first to have left the EPP. Ulster Unionist Party MEP Jim Nicholson switched to the Europe of Nations Group in December 1996 after what he described as "careful deliberation" on key European issues. His website states his precise reasons for leaving:

"For some time he has been concerned that the European people's Party on its determination to achieve a single currency and a centralised European government has started to out run the wishes of the people in various member states. The Ulster Unionist Party has supported the European Union as an entity for economic co–operation and trade. It is opposed to the creation of an European Super State, which since Maastricht has become the overriding objective for the EPP."42

The same principles that guide and shape the attitudes of youth sections of the Conservative Party (and of James Nicholson) apply to their seniors. They have challenged the fundamental nature of the feasibility of relations between British Conservatism and continental Christian Democracy. After such soul searching they have severed relations. A formal relationship between the group of Conservative MEPs and the EPP seems equally erroneous.

Table 1. The differences between the EPP and the Conservative Party
THE EURO "We have already taken a great step forward towards European integration by introducing the Single Currency." EPP Manifesto "We will oppose entry into the single currency." CP Manifesto
INCREASED MAJORITY VOTING "The Council procedure of unanimous voting must gradually be restricted." EPP Basic Programme "We will oppose... and further erosion of the British veto." CP Manifesto
TAXATION POLICY The EPP wants to establish a federal budget for the EU and the harmonisation of income tax The Conservatives are opposed to the equalisation of taxes across the EU.
DEFENCE "The EPP favours the integration into the EU of the Western European Union (WEU). The WEU should become the defence element of the Union and the European pillar of NATO." EPP Action Plan NATO should remain the bedrock of British security. The EU does not need its own army." CP Manifesto
CRIME "We want to reinforce judicial co-operation to create a genuine area of freedom, security, and justice. Only an effective European police force is in a position to fight the scourge of international crime." EPP Manifesto "We will oppose resolutely moves towards the creation of a Europe-wide criminal justice system." CP Manifesto
TRANSPORT The EPP believes in a common transport policy. The Conservatives will oppose moves to harmonise road charges and other transport tariffs.
IMMIGRATION "We call for the harmonisation of European legislation in the areas of asylum and immigration, with uniform criteria at all European borders." EPP Manifesto "We will resist any attempt to develop a common immigration policy for the EU as a whole." CP Manifesto
BUDGET The EPP wants to see the European federal budget increased and "fairer" contributions from member states. "We will seek to reduce the size of the EU budget... and to reduce the British net contribution." CP Manifesto
INSTITUTIONAL REFORM The EPP firmly believes in the principle of acquis communitaire and ever-closer union. "Government must have greater freedom in deciding which other aspects of EU poloicy they adopt." CP Manifesto
ENVIRONMENT The EPP emphasises the need for a common European policy on the environment including common policies on energy and water. William Hague outlined at Budapest his vision of an a la carte Europe.
EMPLOYMENT The EPP supports the Social Chapter, wants legislation on the equality of men and women and further regulations on working life. Conservatives want to see red tape and bureaucracy reduced.


A continued formal relationship between Conservative MEPs and the European Peoples party would be ludicrous. Their respective manifestos for the 1999 European parliamentary elections are completely at odds with each other. The Conservative manifesto proposed a wider Europe of sovereign nation states co–operating freely whilst the EPP manifesto wants concrete action to create a deeper, fully integrated federal Europe.

For its MEPs to retain credibility the Conservative Party must now sever all formal links with the EPP. What can be the point of sitting in a group for "influence" when you do not agree with it? Perhaps, according to this argument, Conservative MEPs should actually be sitting with the Party of European Socialists who, before the 1999 European Elections, are an even bigger grouping.

It is not even true that Conservative MEPs will be bolstering the centre–right in Europe by sitting with the EPP. The EPP is explicitly and avowedly a party of the Centre. The Christian Democratic tradition is completely alien to British Conservatism. Once they have disengaged Conservatives would still be free to vote with members of the European People's Party on issues on which they are agreed; but given the huge gulf between their expressed aims whether this would happen in practice is a moot point.

Claims that the Conservative MEPs are only an associated grouping do not stand up to argument. On the official EPP website British Conservative MEPs are not listed as Conservatives or even as associated EPP members but are listed simply as European People's Party members. James Provan MEP is listed as Vice Chairman of the EPP.

Neither can Conservative candidates claim that they will not be bound by the EPP manifesto. The action plan for 1999–2004 is exactly that; an action plan for the group to follow throughout the next parliament. Why call it an action plan if there is no plan to take any action?

William Hague has successfully internally reformed and democratised his party. He must now show strong leadership in Europe. It should not be for the MEPs to decide whom they should sit with but for their party leadership. The leader and Shadow Cabinet should determine Party affiliations. This has been universally accepted by MEPs. The choice is to display self confidence in the Conservative Party and its programme or to acquiesce in some bizarre attempt at influence by cozying up to those with completely opposite stated aims and intentions.

There are three viable and relatively attractive options open to the Conservative Party. Firstly a possible attraction is to found a new grouping of MEPs around their professed vision of a Europe of sovereign nation states. Under the terms of the Amsterdam Treaty, which no longer permits MEPs of any one country to form a grouping, only 23 members are needed to form a group if they come from two member states , only 18 members if they come from three member states and only 14 members if they come from four or more member states. The European parliament can only legislate by an absolute majority of all its members. So, in other words, it does not really matter who sits with whom, since all the big groups must agree for anything important to happen. There are logistical advantages to being part of a smaller group such as more speaking time and better control of one's own press officers.

Secondly the Conservatives could join the Europe of Nations Group which has long since functioned effectively. This is an admirable grouping of mainly Scandinavian and French MEPs. James Nicholson, the Ulster Unionist, is also a member. Finally Conservatives could join some sort of Gaullist coalition with like minded MEPs (mainly French) from other member states.

The words of a Times newspaper editorial are as equally true today as they were at the start of the 1994–99 European Parliament:

"British Tories need no longer feel isolated or compelled to remain allied to the European People's party grouping for the purposes of respectability."43

It is now time for divorce and an end to this distinctly unlikely and unhappy marriage. There are members from other countries who share Conservative philosophy and its vision of future European co–operation. who would make more fitting partners. If the Conservative party is not to appear split over Europe, if William Hague's leadership is to be accepted and his programme enthusiastically supported , Conservative MEPs must willingly support official Conservative party policy and only form alliances with similarly minded groups. The choice is clear. Continue to affiliate to a grouping from an alien tradition with alternative and opposite beliefs. Or represent the views overwhelmingly endorsed by the Conservative grass roots, its MPs and its Leader. Whatever the alternatives the time has come to bid the EPP goodbye.


Speech at the EPP 8th Annual Congress in 1988 as quoted in Thomas Jansen, European People's Party: Origins and Development, Macmillan, 1998.
Speech in the Ceremonial Hall, Budapest University, Budapest on 13th May 1999
Jansen, ibid
Martin Ball, The Conservative Conference and Euro–Sceptical Motions 1992–95, Bruges Group Occasional Paper No.23, 1996
Jansen, ibid
Conservative Party European Election Manifesto, 1999
The Basic Programme of the EPP (its central tenets and guiding principles), 1992
EPP Official Publication 1983
Jansen, ibid
Jansen, ibid
EPP Manifesto, 1999
The Economist, August 1976
Nigel Ashford, Chapter in Zig Layton–Henry (ed), Conservative Party Politics, Macmillan, 1980.
Andrew Gamble, The Conservative Nation, Routledge and Keegan Paul, 1974
C. Clemens, Christian Democracy: The Different Dimensions of a Modern Movement, Brussels 1989
Guide to the European Democratic Group, 1989
Your watch–dogs in Europe, Conservatives in the European Parliament
Conservative Newsline, May 1992
Lord Beloff, Britain and the European Union: Dialogue of the Deaf, Macmillan press, 1996
Neill Nugent, The Government and Politics of the European Union, Third Edition, Macmillan, 1994
Peter Cattrall "The party and religion" in Anthony Seldon & Stuart Ball (eds.), Conservative Century: The Conservative Party since 1900, Oxford University Press, 1994
Financial Times, 8th April 1992
At the Heart of Europe, Conservatives in the European Parliament, July 1993
BBC TV's On the Record, 24th October 1993 (cited in Adrian Lee, "Time to terminate Tory Euro–marriage", Freedom Today, August 1996)
The Times, 22nd October 1993
Perspectives on the 1996 IGC, Conservatives in the European Parliament, October 1995
"Confessions of a True Blue 'Federast'", The Daily Telegraph, 27th April 1992
"Tory CDs with the Social Chapter Blues", The Sunday Telegraph, 18th July 1993
The Sunday Telegraph, 13th March 1994
BBC TV's On the Record, 24th October 1993
The Times>, 1st March 1994
EPP Constitution
Press Statement by Conservative MEPs upon joining the EPP in May 1992
Shirley Robin Letwin, The Anatomy of Thatcherism, Fontana, 1992
Anne Applebaum, "Torture a Tory: Make him an MEP", The Spectator, 7th May, 1994.
Boris Johnson, The Daily Telegraph, 8th April 1992
The Sunday Telegraph, 23rd August 1998
Lord Beloff, ibid
The Times, 22nd October 1997
Campaigner No.9, Magazine of the National Young Conservatives, 1995
Footnote to the EDS Manifesto for the Euro Elections
Website of James Nicholson MEP
The Times, 19th July 1994


Website Addresses

European People's Party
(European Parliamentary Group)
European People's Party
James Nicholson MEP
Europe of Nations
European Democratic Students
Conservative Party www.conservative–
Further reading on the nature of Christian Democracy

David Hanley (ed.), Christian Democracy in Europe: a comparative perspective, 1994
R. E. M. Irving, The Christian Democratic Parties of Western Europe, 1979
Emiel Lamberts (eds.), Christian Democracy in the European Union, Leuven, 1997
Francis Jacobs (ed.), Western European Political Parties, Harlow, 1989
Simon Hix & Christopher Lord, Political Parties in the European Union, Basingstoke, 1997
John Gaffrey (ed.), Political Parties and the European Union, 1996
R. Jackson, Tradition and Reality: Conservative Philosophy and European Integration, The European Democratic Group
Nigel Ashford, 'The political parties', in Stephen George (ed.) Britain and the European Community: The Politics of Semi–Detachment, Clarendon Press, 1992

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