Reforming the EU so that we increase its accountability and legitimacy and reduce its corruption and intrusiveness is a major way that we can improve the lives of the British public. The EU as it stands is bad government and that is very damaging.
Yesterday, on St George's day, the Conservative Party Board voted in some disgraceful proposals for 2009 MEP selection that simultanaeously protected incumbency, reduced the field for new talent and struck at party democracy.
As a party we are committed to moving from being a small fish in a federalist grouping (EPP) to becoming a big fish in an EU reform grouping (MER)*. In this new world we need leaders, visionaries, networkers and reformers. This involves serious change. The proposals look like a dog's breakfast. Let's take a look.
* - If you think that this website looks threadbare, you'd be right. A telling example of our party's failure to plan for 2009.
Fact - Members will have no direct say in the reselection of incumbents. Incumbents will be ranked higher than any other candidates.
Response - I can't think of a time when measures to protect incumbency have been so inappropriate. The only reason I did not oppose the decision to form a new grouping in 2009 (rather than immediately) was that it was clear to me by their actions that the current Conservative delegation of MEPs was, as a group, not fit for purpose. Dead wood needs to go. Incumbents who are unable or unwilling to make a full contribution to a new EU Reform agenda are an obstacle to our future success in Europe.
Reducing The Field For New Talent
Fact - Should a vacancies arise in any region, women will take the highest non-incumbent slot.
Response - First of all this measure may even be illegal under EU law (see Article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty). Putting that to one side, new blood is probably required for the new team that is being formed. The protection of incumbents (see above) severely limits our opportunities for this and is likely to discourage good candidates from presenting themselves. The fact that only women can take the top non-incumbent spot in each region chokes off further talent. A constituency chairman informs me that less than 10% of applications in 2004 in his region were from women. As someone who has worked in international business, this does not surprise me. Deliberately reducing the field of talent by about 90% is negligent and highly disrespectful to the important role that MEPs will have. For consistency, next time Cameron reshuffles, I want to see 10 women on the Tory front bench (I don't mean this by the way).
A Blow To Party Democracy
Fact - Members will have no direct say in the reselection of incumbents. Where high-placed slots exist, it will generally be the case that the candidates will have been pre-selected (all women).
Response - This is not democracy. It is nowhere near it. I will fight for democratic representation within my party.
A Personal View
Based in Prague as I am, I hear the voices of politicians and politicos in Czech Republic, Slovakia and the wider region. They describe to me how things look from their side of the fence, taking a leap in the dark to join the Conservatives in an untested grouping. They describe their deep misgivings about our Europhile Conservatives in Brussels and report to me how within their own ranks they are fighting people who are keen to keep the trappings of their EPP status. I've been telling them that things would change due to our party democracy and that we have the people to provide the real leadership that the new reform grouping requires. These proposals change all that and make me look like an idiot. In my personal life, I don't invite friends to a party that is going to be crap and I'm not going to do it in my political life.
A new grouping needs parties from five member states. To attract new partners the Conservative leadership needs
- to organise its partners and MEPs to work as a team
- a politically coherent vision
- the political courage to approach potential partners with unfashionable views (e.g. Poles in favour of the death penalty)
That's phase one. In order to be an effective voice and deliver on the reform agenda, we will need a visionary and energetic grouping. The Movement For European Reform was an ambitious project. These proposals condemn it to failure. They need to be strongly opposed by democrats and reformers within the Conservative Party.