While David Cameron has been engaged in fighting his very public battle over the controversial Mr Junker for head of the European Commission, in the background his Conservative Party colleagues on the Continent have been embroiled in a far more secretive campaign. Since the moment the results of the European Parliament elections were announced, the national parties across Europe have been negotiating furiously to form their all-important European Parliamentary groups – like-minded MEPs from across different nations who sit, work, and often vote together in the Parliament and its committees.

These groups are vitally important. They affect the funding received, voting power and overall influence and voice in the European legislative process. As such, the general rule of thumb for forming these groups appears in many cases to be, ‘the more the better’, which has led to some cross-party alliances that are questionable at best, and cause for major concern at worst. While much has already been made of UKIP’s controversial ties and last minute (failed) scrambles for allies, UK Conservative movements have gone largely under the radar, which is probably precisely how they wanted it.

The Tories abandoned the largest group in the European Parliament – the EPP, notably containing Angela Merkel’s party – in 2009, claiming that it was ‘at odds with Tory policy’. [1] They formed a new, more radical group; the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), which has remained a far smaller and less influential body in the Parliament. However, the ECR has grown significantly following the latest EP elections, which were dominated by the Eurosceptic and politically extreme vote across the continent.

So who has joined up with Cameron’s Tories in Europe to bolster the group, now the third largest in the European Parliament? Many of the new numbers are made up by single MEPs from fringe, moderately right-wing parties across Europe; for example Bulgaria Without Censorship. However, there are two new parties who have joined the ECR group that warrant far more scrutiny than is currently being afforded.

In Denmark, the highly controversial Danish People’s Party (DPP) topped the European polls in May, surprising and worrying many across the continent. The party’s catalogue of controversies to date include members likening the headscarf to a swastika, [2] and saying they can put a barrier across the Oeresund bridge to stop immigrants turning the country into ‘a Scandinavian Beirut, with clan wars, honour killings and gang rapes’.[3] In 2009 the Tories blocked the DPP’s attempts to join their group citing ‘unacceptable views in a number of areas’, yet now at the very next opportunity this has all been forgotten or forgiven.

Mats Persson, director of the Open Europe think tank, said that the prime minister’s EU reform plan would be complicated by the inclusion of the DPP, and Sir Robert Atkins, a veteran Tory MEP, warned that any association with the Danish People’s Party would be damaging for Britain and for the Conservatives. However, these warnings have been ignored and the result is an alliance that seems hypocritical, politically dangerous, and highly damaging for Britain’s own reputation.

Also on the list of notable new additions are the Finns party, from Finland. While they may only have 2 MEPs joining forces with the Conservatives, one of the two is perhaps the party’s most controversial figure. Jussi Halla-aho was found guilty and was fined in 2012 for both disturbing religious worship and ethnic agitation, [4] in 2011 he had been suspended from the party for claiming that Greece’s debt problems could be solved by a military junta (he later retracted the latter comments). [5] The party caused further outrage when its employees and politicians reportedly demanded a ‘clean’ room for a scheduled meeting, instead of one that had previously been used by a Somali refugee working group. [6] In the face of criticism over working alongside a convicted xenophobe and his party, the new head of the Conservative ECR, Syed Kamall, said ‘we are looking to parties that are looking to reform, we are looking for people… we don’t look at their past’.[7] Apparently an offer to expand the ECR group is a good enough reason to overlook criminal convictions and racism.

While the desire for as large a group as possible in the European Parliament is perfectly understandable, what is unacceptable is this drive for pure size which has seemingly circumvented all other considerations for the Conservatives. As Britain’s party of government, and one supposedly fighting for European reform on our behalf, these alliances are highly damaging to both Britain’s European image, and our own politics and society. These actions should not be permitted to go under the radar in Britain or Europe, and we should hold those responsible to account and demand the explanations that are due.

Sources:

[1] http://www.afp.com/en/news/cameron-ready-force-eu-vote-juncker

[2] http://expressindia.indianexpress.com/news/print.php?newsid=86853

[3] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4276963.stm

[4] http://www.hs.fi/english/article/Supreme+Court+finds+Finns+Party+MP+Jussi+Halla-aho+guilty+of+incitement+against+an+ethnic+group/1329104281809

[5] http://www.hs.fi/english/article/UPDATE+Jussi+Halla-aho+suspended+from+True+Finns+parliamentary+group+for+two+weeks/1135269368268

[6] http://yle.fi/uutiset/no_charges_in_finns_party_lieksa_racism_row/7098833

[7] http://euobserver.com/eu-elections/124543