If I were to claim that the Conservative party’s approach to European Union politics causes me no anxiety, I would be lying. The broad aspiration - a cooperative Europe, based on sovereign states sharing a commitment to democracy, a common market and a common travel space, I can support unequivocally. I am certainly not an advocate of federalism.
Some of the Tories’ allies in the European Conservatives and Reformists, however, make me rather uneasy. And I worry that David Cameron will cause himself difficulties by pledging not to let the Lisbon Treaty rest, even if it has been ratified by every state by the time he becomes prime minister.
One of the more lamentable developments in the former eastern bloc, over the past number of years, has been the ascent of populist nationalism. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Tories have formed a group with some of the worst offenders. I’ve delved into the various Conservative arguments – the homophobes and racists in other European Parliament groups, the mutable alliances formed in exceptional times in order to combat a pervasive communist menace – and I have emerged unconvinced. I still believe, quite strongly, that the Latvian ‘For Fatherland and Freedom’ party is a distinctly unpleasant group. Neither do I feel that a modern, centrist party should find ultra right Polish nationalists, fired by a particularly unyielding interpretation of Catholicism, comfortable bedfellows.
An article in Comment is Free alleges that Eric Pickles defended the Latvian party in a recent Today interview, claiming their SS fetish is inspired by ‘nostalgia’. Ethno nationalists in the Baltic tend to consider compatriots, who fought alongside Germans in the Second World War, brave freedom fighters. It would be exceptionally regrettable should Conservative spokespeople find themselves contextualising populist nationalist revisionism as to the role of Nazi collaborators, in order to sustain their new parliamentary group.
The Conservatives and Reformists group has been forged, and the aim must be to expand its membership, in order that some of the less savoury aspects become less conspicuous. In the interim the British Tories should concentrate on shaping its agenda and emphasising goals shared on a European platform, rather than attempting to explain away some of their partners’ rather disgraceful domestic positions.