Cameron climbs down over plans for centre-right European alliance

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Indy Politics

David Cameron will today announce a partial climbdown in his controversial bid to form a new centre-right grouping in the European Parliament, by postponing the plan until after the next elections to the Parliament in 2009.

The move follows months of negotiations in which the bloc of Tory MEPs failed to find suitable allies. Mr Cameron is expected to announce that his plans to form a grouping with the Czech centre right Civic Democrat Party (ODS) will go ahead only after 2009. Last night the Shadow Cabinet was discussing the decision, with a press conference expected today, possibly with the ODS leader and prospective Czech prime minister Mirek Topolanek.

It remained unclear last night what would happen to the 26 Conservative MEPs in the interim period. One option is that they quit their existing centre-right family, the EPP-ED, which is judged too integrationist by Eurosceptic Tories, and sit with non-aligned MEPs.

While that would split the group, so would any decision to remain within the EPP-ED. A compromise might be to allow the MEPs to choose where they sit. The fate of the Tory MEPs is seen as an important test of Mr Cameron's leadership following his pledge to quit the EPP-ED last year.

Postponing the breakaway would anger hardline Eurosceptic MPs. Some say they voted for Mr Cameron as leader because of his pledge. But he is also under pressure from pro-European Tories, who argue it would be foolish to lose influence in the Parliament and walk away from its biggest group when it has a major figure on the EU stage in Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor.

William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, was charged with drawing up allies who, under the European Parliament's rules, need to come from five different nations. One potential set of allies, the Polish Law and Justice party, are regarded as a potential liability because of the homophobic views of some of their leading politicians.

Law and Justice also courted controversy by breaking a pledge not to nominate Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the identical twin of President Lech Kaczynski, as prime minister.

On Monday it became clear that Mr Hague's preferred partners, the Czech ODS, had deferred their plans to form a new group until after 2009 because they are engaged in coalition negotiations in The Hague. Jan Zahradil, the leader of the parliamentary delegation of the ODS said: "We have decided to delay our involvement in long-prepared talks over a new eurorealist group in the European Parliament in a bid to ensure that they do not collide with the Czech government coalition negotiations." In a statement for the MF Dnes daily, he added: "This is not about us abandoning our autonomous priorities but about expression of our responsibilities."

Geoff Hoon, the Europe Minister, said: "This is a fiasco completely of David Cameron's own making. The pressure is mounting on David Cameron. This week we have seen his pledge to withdraw the Tories from the EPP-ED descend into chaos."

He said the Czech ODS's decision was a snub to Mr Cameron because two weeks ago he flew out on a secret mission to persuade them to join with the Tories.

A Tory spokesman said: "David Cameron's pledge regarding the EPP will be fulfilled."