Friday, 18 October 2013

A Dublin Meeting That Needs To Enfranchise The British Centre-Right

In Dublin next March there is an important meeting that could shape the European Union for the rest of the decade. And that is the European People's Party choosing its nominee for the post of President of the European Commission.

I have outlined how the Commission President is chosen, but what will be different after the May 2014 elections is that some of the Europarties will be choosing nominees for the post, with the aim that the European Council will take this into account when selecting a President-nominate to present to the European Parliament for its approval (or disapproval - this is democracy, after all).

We need to take a step back here and see what a Europarty is - basically it is a transnational party comprised of national parties in Europe and receives funding from the Parliament. They are (with British members in italics):

  • Alliance of European Conservatives & Reformists (Conservative; Ulster Unionist Party)
  • Alliance of Liberals & Democrats for Europe (Alliance Party of Northern Ireland*; Liberal Democrats)
  • European Alliance for Freedom (includes Godfrey Bloom, MEP for Yorkshire & Humberside, who lost the UK Independence Party whip last month)
  • European Alliance of National Movements (British National Party)
  • EU Democrats
  • European Christian Political Movement (Christian People's Alliance*)
  • European Democratic Party
  • European Free Alliance (Mebyon Kernow*; Plaid Cymru; Scottish National Party)
  • European Green Party (Green Party of England & Wales; Irish Green Party*^; Scottish Green Party*)
  • European People's Party
  • Movement for a Europe of Liberties & Democracy
  • Party of European Socialists (Labour; Social Democratic & Labour Party*)
  • Party of the European Left

[* No Members of the European Parliament]

[^ An all-Ireland party]

One thing to note is that these do not replace the national parties, which appear to remain single-nation ones. For example, within the European People's Party, there is Christian Democratic & Flemish, which is part of the Belgian Government. Also part of the Europarty is Christian Democratic Appeal, which was part of the Dutch Government. But these are distinct parties - there is no obvious move for Amsterdam-based parties to start contesting the Flemish part of Belgium (nor Paris-based ones the Walloon part).

Although there is scaremongering about a single European state on the horizon, there are no real attempts to replace national parties with transnational ones - which would surely be part of any attempt to create a United States of Europe - not even in obvious situations, e.g.German Chancellor Angela Merkel will have to sort out a coalition in Berlin soon, with her Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union probably going to form a "grand coalition" with the Social Democrats, but it's not a case of "well, we are already in coalition with each other in Vienna"; Prime Minister David Cameron is not going to have Teachtaí Dála as well as MPs.

In addition, Europarties are not restricted to EU member nations. The European People's Party is proudly declaring that their Erna Solberg has just become Norwegian Prime Minister, while the European Christian Political Movement has a few non-EU parties as members. The Alliance of European Conservatives & Reformists has Iceland's Independence Party as a member, and goes as far as having the Conservative Party of Canada as an associate member.

Conversely, not every party with MEPs is a member of a Europarty - for example, the Democratic Unionist Party, UKIP and Sinn Féin are not.

So far, the Alliance of Liberals & Democrats for Europe, European Green Party, European People's Party and the Party of European Socialists are intending to select presidential candidates - although, to be honest, it will be a choice between the European People's Party and Party of European Socialists candidates.

There is a distinction between the Europarties and the groups in the Parliament. The groups are (from largest to smallest):

  • European People's Party - the Europarty on the same name, together with Belgium's Christian Social Party
  • Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats - the Party of European Socialists, together with Cyprus' Democratic Party and Italy's Democratic Party
  • Alliance of Liberals & Democrats for Europe - two Europarties (the Alliance of Liberals & Democrats for Europe and European Democratic Party), together with France's Citizenship, Action & Participation for the 21st Century and Greece's Action
  • Greens/European Free Alliance - two Europarties (the European Free Alliance and European Green Party), together with Sweden's Pirate Party and a couple of Independent MEPs (Estonia's Indrek Tarand and Portugal's Rui Tavares, who is a defector from European United Left/Nordic Green Left)
  • European Conservatives & Reformists - two Europarties (the Alliance of European Conservatives & Reformists and European Christian Political Movement), together with Croatia's Party of Rights dr. Ante Starčević, Hungary's Modern Hungary Movement, Italy's The Right, and 3 Independent MEPs (Poland's Adam Bielan & Mirosław Piotrowski and Denmark's Anna Rosbach, who is a defector from Europe of Freedom & Democracy. Bielan and Piotrowski demonstrate that an MEP can leave their national party while remaining in their European Parliament group)
  • Europe of Freedom & Democracy - the Movement for a Europe of Liberties & Democracy, together with UKIP, Bulgaria's People for Real, Open & United Democracy, Italy's I Love Italy, the Netherlands' Reformed Political Party, as well as an MEP from Belgium's Flemish Interest (Frank Vanhecke - his sole party colleague, Philip Claeys, sits as a non-iscrit)
  • European United Left/Nordic Green Left - the Party of the European Left, together with Sinn Féin, Croatia's Croatian Labourists – Labour Party, Cyprus' Progressive Party of Working People, the Czech Republic's Communist Party of Bohemia & Moravia, France's Communist Party of Réunion (despite being off the coast of Madagascar, Réunion is legally part of France), Greece's Communist Party, Ireland's Socialist Party, Latvia's Socialist Party, the Netherland's Socialist Party, Portugal's Communist Party, Sweden's Left Party, as well as an Independent MEP (France's Marie-Christine Vergiat)

Then there are the non-iscrits, who do not fall into any of the groups. They come from three Europarties (European Alliance for Freedom, European Alliance of National Movements and EU Democrats) as well as from outside Europarties (e.g. DUP).

There is one thing you might have noticed from all this - where are the British members of the European People's Party? The United Kingdom is the only EU nation with no European People's Party MEPs, and the Europarty has no British parties in it.

At one level this is not a big deal. But the May European elections will help decide who becomes Commission President.

Imagine you are a voter in a major State in the USA. You go to the polling station to elect the members of the Electoral College who will elect the President. You see the Democrats, the Libertarians, the Greens etc. But you know the President is either going to be a Democrat or a Republican and there is no Republican name there.

In the United Kingdom we will be in a similar situation. We can use our vote to indicate we want the Council to nominate the Party of European Socialist's candidate as President. Or, er, we can't. If we want to see the European People's Party candidate become President, there is not a single positive thing we can do. All we can do is cast a negative vote (e.g. for any party other than Labour) and hope that this hits the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats hard enough so they get fewer MEPs than the European People's Party. But that isn't really much of a choice.

Those of us on the centre-right need to have a say. The European People's Party has to throw its Dublin meeting open to the Alliance of European Conservatives & Reformists and European Christian Political Movement, and have a joint Presidential candidate, with two British parties - the Conservatives and the Christian People's Alliance - having delegates who play a role in selecting the candidate. This is a win-win situation for the centre-right, as surely what will then matter when the Commission nominates a President is not whether the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats gets more MEPs than the European People's Party, rather whether it gets more MEPs than the combined total of the European People's Party and European Conservatives & Reformists.

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