Conservatives are facing embarrassment because their group may not be big enough to be recognised after the European elections on Thursday, according to the Independent. The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) were created when David Cameron pledged to walk out of the European People’s Party over their federalist views, but it remains small and is vulnerable due to the rise in Euro-sceptic parties.
At the moment the ECR group has 57 members from 15 political parties in 11 EU states. Although only four countries have more than one MEP, and the group is dominated by the 26 MEPs from the British Conservatives. The leader, Martin Callanan, is also a British Conservative in a vulnerable seat. The other three countries with multiple MEPs are the Czech Republic (9) Italy (2) and Poland (12).
To be recognised as a political grouping in the European Parliament MEPs must form themselves into a party with more than 25 members from at least seven countries. The problem for the ECR group is not overall numbers, although they are expected to be down, but rather having MEPs from less than the minimum seven states. This could easily happen as current predictions would see them lose almost all of their single member countries.
This in turn would lead the ECR group into having to choose between doing a deal with extremists or fold the group altogether. Given the structure of the European Parliament it is almost impossible to achieve anything without a recognised group, and that is the route to both floor time and funding. Also committee seats and chairmanships are allocated based on size of the group an MEP belongs to.
The problems at the ECR will comes as a major blow to David Cameron as leaving the EPP and creating the new group was a key election pledge when he ran for party leader. He has also suffered significant criticism from his former colleagues at the EPP for walking out of the largest and most successful group in the Parliament.
This week the EPP wrote to every voter in London accusing the Conservatives of joining up with “an odd collection of fringe parties” and walking away from the “mainstream centre-ground” party. If David Cameron were to have to beg for membership back it would be a disastrous humiliation that could well end his ambitions to renegotiate the British relationship with Brussels.
The Prime Minister is likely to attempt to save the ECR group, but the cost might be an alliance with parties that hold unsavoury views, and an embarrassing media backlash. The Conservatives have already made informal approaches to the Finns Party and the Danish People’s Party, both of whom have issued statements that would be deemed racist in Britain.