Back in 2005, in order to win his position as Leader of the Conservative Party, he offered his eurosceptic loonies the policy position of leaving the European Parliament’s main conservative alliance, the European People’s Party. The Tories then created their own euro-caucus mainly with the Polish Justice and Law party and while in 2009 the ECR refused to ally with the anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party and Italy’s Lega Nord, the new group meant that the Tories were no longer in the EPP and thus excluded from the European centre right’s central debates and policy making. (It should be noted that both the Poles and the UK are outside the Eurozone, making the EPP, more eurozone centric and the ECR less relevant to the EPP.) So while having a hissy fit and as a result of brutal self-interested calculation, Cameron cut himself, and thus the British people, off from the EPP and the German CDU
Over the last two years the European Parliamentary Alliances have developed the idea of running candidates for the role of President of the Commission, and in doing so ensuring that the elections to the European Parliament gain more relevance.This post is filled on the nomination by the Council of Ministers i.e. the Heads of Government of the EU member states and confirmed by the European Parliament. Historically the nomination has been by consensus, but under the Lisbon treaty the Council of Ministers is now duty bound to take account of the results of the election to the European Parliament. Most of the EU parliamentary groups nominated a lead candidate as part of their European Parliamentary slate. The ECR did not. These lead candidates, or Spitzenkanditaten debated and campaigned across Europe, although Labour did not support the PES candidate, Martin Schultz of the German SPD, who did not come to the UK. The EPP selected Jean Claude Jüncker, an ex Premier of Luxembourg to be the EPP lead candidate. On the whole the Spitzenkanditaten process passed the UK by, although as I pointed out, the EPP ran a pro-Jüncker slate in London; although if you’d blinked you’d have missed it.
Cameron is, having marginalised himself, now campaigning to have the EPP Spitzenkanditaten, Jean Claude Jüncker passed over; he argues that Europe has voted for reform. The EPP argue that as the political alliance with the most seats, they won and that the Council of Ministers should nominate Jean Claude Jüncker. In my article, Sort Orders and Strasbourg, I suggest that it’s not as clear cut as that. The EPP lost the most seats and the Left groups gained at their expense. It is unlikely for reasons of the respective domestic politics that the PES and the United Left will ally together with the Greens to create a broad left bloc which could challenge the EPP for leadership of the European Parliament. This is a important because the EU Commission is one of the key pillars of European austerity; a policy which is in the interests of very few of its citizens. I’d argue that fighting for democratic economic policy is more imoportant than the microscopic increase in the democratic accountability that the Spitzenkanditaten process brings.
Cameron is trying to block Jüncker because he fears further integration, and fears that a Jüncker led Commission will play hard ball as he attempts to ‘repatriate’ powers. Much of the rest of the Europe are incandescent with Cameron’s position. One piece of evidence about the anger felt in some parts of Europe by Cameron’s isolated posturing is reflected in Michael Rocard’s blistering attack on Cameron and Britain, correctly accusing the Tories and kippers of only being interested in free trade and the single market, although we’re not so keen on food standard harmonisation. (See below.) I say that the Kippers want free trade and the single market, I am not sure that even that is true in their case. Anyway Cameron’s tactics, win or lose will make his strategy harder not easier. This is aggravated by the fact that the European majority have the Euro to worry about and Cameron’s veto of the 2011 summit on stablisation of the euro has not been forgotten.
Interestingly the Independent reports last weekend that Jüncker hasn’t got the votes on the Council. suggesting that if Cameron can find a candidate acceptable to the European Parliament he might even win, although amazingly one of the candidates being spoken about is Denmark’s Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who is a Social Democrat and one of the people considered by the PES as their candidate. In order to balance things up politically, the name of Dalia Grybauskaite who is probably politically more to his taste, the incumbent President of Lithuania elected as a conservative backed independent also has her name in ring. The Lithuanian Conservatives are members of the EPP, so why she would want to compete with a candidate backed by her supporters and resign from the position as President of her country is unclear, although not all of Europe considers EU politics as requiring second class politicians. Part of their appeal to the anti-Jüncker brigade is that they are female and so they can hope to pick up any feminist votes in the Council of Ministers, a pretty cynical move from the man who has appointed the lowest number of women to his cabinet since the last time they were in power in the 20th century.
So Cameron’s three pigeons return to his roost, the quitting of the EPP, the veto of the 2011 Euro summit’s euro rescue plan and the Referendum promise. His problem is that the Tory eurosceptics will never be satisfied until Britain leaves. It’ll be a very interesting couple of weeks but it’s unlikely to end well for anyone.
This was written over a two week period, I have tried to keep to what I wanted to say and not reflect the changes that occurred between the 10th and the real date of publication, which was after the European summit. I hope I havn’t confused and also to catch up with those events soon.
The featured picture of the pigeons is at flickr, by Ville Miettinen and is published under CC BY-NC 2007