Only a couple of days after its formation, and already David Cameron’s new European Parliament political grouping (the brilliantly-named Conservatives and Reformists) have lost a member. Considering that you need MEPs from seven member states to form an EP group, and this new one is relying on no fewer than five individual MEPs from various member states to make up the numbers, I reckon we should set up a sweepstake on how long this lasts.
It is, after all, basically just three parties from three member states (the Conservatives from the UK, Law & Justice from Poland and the Civic Democrats from the Czech Republic), of which the Tories massively dominate (and seem, from what I can tell, to be the most sensible and successful of the lot – both the Poles and the Czechs have some rather odd views, to put it mildly, and seem to be on the wane in their respective countries while the Tories are on the rise).
Relying on a bunch of individual MEPs to make up the requirement for multiple member states was always going to be a risky strategy – but how far are the Conservatives, as by far the dominant force in terms of numbers, going to be prepared to pander to individuals to hold the group together? Today we’ve learned that one member – Hannu Takkula of the Finnish Centre Party – has already decided to jump ship. He may well swiftly have been replaced with Waldemar Tomaszewski from Lithuania (although I’m not sure of the details here as yet), but that’s still taking the new group perilously close to the bare minimum spread of member states for group qualification.
And at the same time, there’s a whole bunch of eurosceptic/anti-EU right(ish)-wing parties knocking around in the large unaligned part of the European Parliament – not just the likes of the UK’s BNP and other far-right nationalists and fascists, but also the leftovers from the recently collapsed Independence/Democracy group (the one headed by UKIP’s Nigel Farage until the elections, when the collapse of support for the group’s Polish contingent spelled its doom).
Farage is a canny operator, and certainly not stupid – I wouldn’t put it past him to be able to paint Cameron’s Conservatives as far too wishy-washy (which is, after all, the entire UKIP strategy in the UK) in an effort to steal away some of those individual MEPs from this new group to an Ind/Dem successor. He may even get somewhere. And with the numbers Cameron’s new group is relying on, this split between the *quite* eurosceptics and the *very* eurosceptics could roll on and on – all the while with the balance of power being determined by a small group of individual, more or less independent MEPs, most of whom will have entirely their own agendas.
I can only see this as turning out badly – either they give individuals (many of whom appear to have rather, shall we say “unusual” views?) various positions of influence to keep them on board and so hold the group together, or they go for their original plans (in Cameron’s case, unknown, and in Farage’s case, an all out anti-EU nationalism – albeit one that’s not quite as extreme as it is often made out), and risk alienating the individuals on which they will both be entirely reliant for the committee places and funding that EP group status affords.
In other words, the two pretenders to the title of official European Parliamentary eurosceptic group have the option of either sacrificing their ideals and handing power over to mavericks or risking obscurity in the nonaligned sidelines.