Andreas Maurer, Roderick Parkes

The British Conservatives in the European Parliament

SWP Research Paper 2006/RP 05, May 2006, 37 Pages

The British Conservative party's allied membership of the largest party group in the European Parliament, has long been a troubled relationship. Not only is there a mismatch between British Conservatism and the more Centrist, Christian Democratic traditions that underpin the European People's Party-European Democrats, the Conservatives' increasingly hostile preferences towards European integration also appear ill-placed in a group that has made no secret of its ambitions for the future development of the EU.

 

Following his election to the leadership of the Conservative Party, David Cameron has exacerbated these tensions by seeking to withdraw the party's MEPs from the group. The Conservatives have subsequently been engaged in efforts to establish a new group in the Parliament. Progress has been laborious though, and it is widely agreed that the options currently available are too costly in political terms. Mr Cameron is therefore expected to cut his losses and run.

 

This paper suggests that the leadership’s readiness to consider these costly options is bound up with its efforts to effect changes to the party’s broader economic and social policies. Until recently, this context encouraged Mr Cameron to pursue withdrawal from the EPP-ED at a high political price. However, the party’s recent success in the English local elections has boosted the leadership’s capacity to effect broader policy change, and it appears increasingly unwilling to withdraw from the EPP-ED at any cost. Against this background the outcome of the Czech election in June gains significance, since the Czech Civic Democrats’ readiness to participate in a new group in the European Parliament is in many ways contingent upon its electoral fortunes. This paper sets out the options available to the British Conservatives for this Parliament and the next, as well as the likely outcome of developments.

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