>Nutter chance? The EPP and the Tories’ East European allies

Slightly to my surprise I got on to Radio 4’s Any Answers phone-in today. My point: the Tories’ East European allies in the new European Parliamentary group David Cameron wants to create after leaving the European People’s Party (EPP) – the Czech Civic Democrats (ODS) and Poland’s Law and Justice Party (PiS), though no one mentioned them on the programme – are not ‘nutters’ as most of the panel (bar William Hague) seemed to think. In fact in terms of the patchwork that makes up the European centre-right, both are reasonably mainstream, although that may say more about the West European centre-right than anything else…

The Czech ODS hardly needs introduction and Poland’s PiS, although indeed deeply socially conservative, seem rougly comparable to the Bavarian CSU or pockets of the Italian and Spanish Catholic right in the depths in its illiberalism. Not a million miles away from the British Tories’ Cornerstone group with its Flag, Family and Faith enthusiasms, in fact….

Overall, the discussion let Hague of the hook in pursuing the ‘nutters’ theme (he got out of it with a good joke), diverting attention from some of the weakness of the Tory decentralized-Europe-of-markets-and- nations vision -no to mention the fact that Tory-led liberal-conservative eurosceptics – even awkwardly reinforced by Poland’s PiS – may make up respectably mainstream small EP group – but are a minor voice in wider European politics fighting a rearguard action reliant on unruly electorates, referendums and the short-term vested interests of national governments in retaining power than their own little battalions.

The chances of the new group actually emerging, however, seem rather thin. Notwithstanding the well publicised resistance of some Tory MEPs to leaving the EPP, ODS leader Miroslav Topolánek is lukewarm and is reportedly energetically trying to rein in ODS EP leader Jan Zahradil, the archest of arch-eurosceptics and moving spirit of the new fraction, which he would quite possibly chair. Topolánek has, moreover, accidentally (on purpose?) managed to alienate Law and Justice by describing its recently concluded coalition with ultra-conservative League of Polish Families (LPR) and the agrarian-populist, europhobe Self-Defence party of Andrzej Lepper as ‘populist’ and then – horror – saying he felt closer to the mildly eurosceptical Civic Platform (OP) of Jan Rokita, the main opposition party (LN 6 June) (Rokita was, say the Czech press, shocked by the quantity and vehemence of anti-EU propaganda he saw when he last visited ODS headquarters, so the admiration is not quite mutual(LN 8 June))

There seems to be something of a power struggle going on between Zahradil – a contender for the ODS leadership beaten (narrowly) Topolánek in 2002 – and the more pragmatic group around Topolánek, who are focused on domestic coalition building with the Europhile Christian Democrats and Greens and much less inclined generally to play Sancho Panza to Václav Klaus’s Don Quixote as far as grand visions of a neo-liberal Europe of Nations are concerned

LPR and Self-Defence, it should be said, might indeed qualify as nutty. Luckily no one asked me about this on the radio…

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