Confusion as Tories speak up for euro
Monday 31 May 1999
In sharp contrast to Mr Hague's Eurosceptic stance during the campaign, the party highlights the close links between its MEPs and the centre- right European People's Party (EPP), the second largest group in the parliament with 202 seats compared to the 214-strong Socialist group
Embarrassingly, the Central Office website even lists the names and telephone numbers of John Stevens and Brendan Donnelly, the two Conservative MEPs who left the party in January to form the rival Pro Euro Conservative Party. It is putting up 84 candidates in the Euro elections in the hope of deposing Mr Hague and installing the Europhile Kenneth Clarke as party leader.
In a message on the website, Edward McMillan-Scott, leader of the MEPs, says the Conservatives and their centre-right allies "have the opportunity to change the balance of power in the European Parliament... A gain of just 15 seats could give us a centre-right European Parliament".
The EPP pages on the Central Office website, which use the slogan "Heart of Europe", hails the euro as "a success for the EPP" which "will act as a driving force speeding up the process of European integration". The group also backs harmonisation laws on asylum and immigration thoughout the EU, with "uniform criteria at all European borders". The Conservatives insist there is no contradiction with Mr Hague's hard-line policy of ruling out membership of the single currency in this parliament and the next. They say the Conservative MEPs' status as "allied members" of the EPP means they are not bound by the group's policies. But this statement is at odds with the EPP manifesto, which declares: "We will not try to win your vote by saying different things in different places. We will present the same ideas to everyone everywhere. Our candidates will vary, but not the policies they represent."
Conservative MEPs play leading roles in the EPP: Mr McMillan-Scott is a vice-president and James Provan, MEP for South Downs West, is its chief whip. Last night Tony Blair challenged the Conservatives over the position of their Euro MPs. He said the EPP's rules meant they could only be associate members if they "accept the fundamental political doctrines of the EPP group".
In a letter to Mr McMillan-Scott, Mr Blair said it was clear that Tory MEPs supported the EPP's policies. "Given the differences between these policies and those included in the Tory European manifesto, it seems the Conservative Party says one thing in Brussels while Mr Hague says another in Britain," said Mr Blair.
Margaret Beckett, leader of the Commons, said: "The truth is that there is a massive gap between the isolationism of William Hague, as revealed in this campaign, and the federalism of the EPP." Labour has been more open about its links with its sister parties, running on a joint manifesto agreed with 19 others which form the Party of European Socialists (PES). The Conservatives have sought to exploit the manifesto's calls for "economic co-ordination" and its backing for the euro. But Mr Blair described the programme as a New Labour one and it was co-authored by Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary. "He took out all the timebombs," said a Labour official.
t Labour said it would be "delighted" if Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, a Labour supporter, could be drafted in to boost the party's European election campaign. Party strategists have been hoping to capitalise on his treble-winning success - culminating in his club's European Champions League triumph.
Euro elections, page 8
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