[A-List] UK state: political realignment
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Wed Dec 4 01:33:29 MST 2002
Further updates on the continuing death agony of the Conservative Party, now
friendless in Europe, apart from the likes of Jean-Marie Le Pen, etc.
Tories widen rift with centre-right European group
Michael White, political editor
Wednesday December 4, 2002
Iain Duncan Smith is threatening a final break between British Conservatives
and the mainstream group of centre-right parties in the European parliament
after failing to win autonomy for his Eurosceptic faction within the group.
The move would leave the European Democrats - as Tory MEPs are now called in
Europe - almost friendless apart from far-right groups.
After months of wrangling with the European People's party (EPP), which
represents 233 of the 622 MEPs in the Strasbourg parliament, the Tory leader
has been told that he cannot have complete control over staff appointments,
budget and the right to admit new member countries to the European Democrat
sub-group within the EPP.
The rebuff came in a letter from the EPP to Mr Duncan Smith at the weekend.
He had given a November 30 deadline to resolve his demands for more freedom
of action in a grouping which is dominated by Euro-federalists.
With some hardline anti-European MEPs already threatening to quit the group
because they regard Mr Duncan Smith as too conciliatory, he may be left with
no choice but to fulfil his threat to break completely with the EPP.
"This is very much IDS's baby," said one disaffected Tory MEP. "He pledged
during the leadership campaign that he would get out of the EPP."
The EPP leadership of the veteran Belgian ex-premier Wilfried Martens
insisted that it must retain ultimate responsibility for hiring and firing
as well as which new groups might be admitted when the EU expands from 15
members to 25.
"We can't change the rules and were shocked and surprised to receive another
letter," one European official said.
Last night Conservative HQ in London, which has taken over strategic policy
making for its group of MEPs, would only say: "There have been discussions
for 14 months; they are continuing."
In the 14 months since he took over from Mr Hague, Mr Duncan Smith has
succeeded in getting Tory splits on Europe off the front pages. But tensions
are likely to return next year for two reasons: Labour must decide whether
to try to enter the single currency, and the constitutional convention on
the future of Europe will start to reach its conclusions.
Yesterday, as Mr Duncan Smith warned that Britain is "in danger of becoming
the sick man of Europe again", his foreign affairs spokesman, Michael
Ancram, seized on reports that the European commission wants to see its
Le Monde reported that the commission's latest blueprint would end most
national vetoes over policy in favour of majority voting, expand its
policy-initiating role further into the economic and security spheres, and
reject the Blair-Chirac idea of an elected president of Europe, picked from
heads of government.
"These proposals are extraordinary and would turn the commission into a
European government," Mr Ancram said.
In reality none of the EU's big three, Germany, France and Britain, would
countenance such claims: they want the council of ministers to become more
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