European Elections: Tories may quit pro-EU coalition

The Right
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The Independent Online
WILLIAM HAGUE is under intense pressure from MPs and newly elected MEPs to pull out of a "federalist" centre-right coalition in the European Parliament.

Eurosceptics held meetings at Westminster yesterday to persuade party figures to sever links with the European People's Party (EPP). The MPs, MEPs and shadow cabinet ministers believe the party can no longer be allied with Christian Democrats in Strasbourg, who expressly support the euro and closer political integration.

They say the Tories' success in the elections, fought with a strongly anti-euro campaign, makes it impossible to continue the affiliation. The number of Eurosceptic MEPs in the party has risen to 12, shifting its balance to the right. A meeting on Friday will discuss alignments in Strasbourg.

Hardline MEPs were furious yesterday when Edward Macmillan-Scott, leader of the Tory group, suggested it was a question of "when, not if" the party announced it would continue its links with the EPP. His statement broke a truce between pro-euro and anti-euro MEP candidates that none would discuss the issue during the election campaign.

The Independent has learnt that a meeting of candidates before the campaign agreed that the decision should be left to Mr Hague and the shadow cabinet after the election.

Yesterday he denied claims by Wilfried Martens, outgoing EPP leader, that he had reassured him the party would maintain its links.

"That's not a very accurate reflection of the discussion with Mr Martens. We will take decisions about that over the coming days or weeks in consultation with MEPs," Mr Hague said.

Some pro-European MEPs say the EPP offers a chance to take control of the parliament from the Socialists, but the Tory leader reiterated his stance that the issue was still undecided. "We have no commitment to anybody about what alignment we will make in the European Parliament; of course, we will now consider this carefully."

A Tory source said the case for refusing to deal with the EPP, or at least persuading it to change its policies, was overwhelming. "We are in a strong position, with a very solid bloc of 36. We should use that strength and wait for people to come to us. A lot of us are unhappy with the EPP."