The British left is increasingly a presence in Brussels, with the Kinnocks now installed at the commission and the parliament. Mr Kinnock held his first meeting with the British press last week, evidently relishing the task ahead as Transport Commissioner. In the parliament, the Labour Party is dug in deep, the largest national political grouping by far.
BARBARA Castle was the last female leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party and there is something of the brisk Castle manner about Mrs Green. Friendly and accessible, she is less the Labour intellectual, more the party manager. She is regarded as tough and practical. Her hallmark is the ability to build consensus from diverse views. Like her fellow Labour MEPs, she is rarely given to cerebral musings about the nature of Europe. As a group, the British are likely to spend more time worrying about traffic accidents and power stations than about stage three of monetary union or variable geometry. Mrs Green has little patience with the kind of discussions about Europe that often characterise the European Union. "All that nonsense about pillars, trees and so on," as one of her colleagues described it.
She puts some of her European commitment down to her peripatetic childhood. She was born in Malta, where her father served with the Royal Artillery and met her Maltese mother. He also served in Egypt and Germany. Mrs Green failed her 11-plus and went to John Kelly secondary modern school in the North London borough of Brent, but she later got a BA from the Open University and an MSc from the London School of Economics.
She joined the police after taking a business course at Kilburn Polytechnic, an improbable background for a Labour representative. But it was what she saw on the beat in North London, she says, that turned her into a socialist - men and women whose liveswere dominated by the crushing burden of inequality and poverty being forced into a dismal chain of criminal activities. Later, she became a teacher. Her direct and unpretentious manner is often put down to her time as a copper. Her husband, whom she married in 1971, is still a police commander in London. They have two children.
She has risen very rapidly from political obscurity. She entered politics through the co-operative movement, where she was a full-time lobbyist for environmental and consumer causes - one of her campaigns led to Europe's hygiene laws. She became an MEP in 1989, was already leader of the British Labour group by the 1994 Euroelections, and was then asked by John Smith whether she would take the socialist group leader's job if it were available. It was a mark of how quickly she had made an impact. Like Douglas Hurd, she is regarded as a "safe pair of hands", reliable and disciplined. One of her colleagues remembers when she arrived, and the party had split over some procedural issue. "She tore into them," said one present at the meeting that followed. "She told them that this was no way to behave. I was impressed."
She arrived in the labyrinthine corridors of Strasbourg at a time when the Labour Party was swinging behind European integration, after Jacques Delors' historic speech to the Trades Union Congress in Bournemouth in 1988. Some of those in the EPLP are still deeply suspicious of the institution, but the party was by and large converted to Europe by the time of the 1989 Euro elections.
The Labour Party had never held the job of leader of the socialist group; it wanted it, and it got it. The previous leader, Jean-Pierre Cot, was unpopular within the group and had already been in rather bad odour with the French socialists, who put him well down their electoral list for the 1994 Euro elections. After the election, with British Labour members flooding in and the French socialists crashing to defeat, Mrs Green was a shoo-in. She was elected last July.
The Conservatives in the European Parliament represent little opposition. Though linked to the European Peoples' Party, the mainstream centre-right grouping that is the parliament's second largest, the Tories have been unable to bring themselves to take up full membership. The last election reduced them to a miserable 18 members. They have spent virtually every day since then engaged in internecine struggle which - though it does reflect some ideological differences - is mainly about personality clashes. Back in London, the Conservative Party is wrenching itself apart, complicating any effort for the Euro-Tories to form a consistent policy. "They have virtually disappeared off the radar screen," says one Brussels observer of the European Conservatives.The parliament is a good vantage point from which to embarrass and harass the Government.
But as Tony Blair's recent visit to Brussels showed, it can work the other way too. A front-page advertisement by a group of MEPs backing Clause IV brought the wrath of the Labour leadership down on them. Worryingly, it showed that the party had not lostthe ability to shoot itself in the foot.
There are clear risks for Mrs Green on the road ahead. Everybody remembers John Major's jeering comments about John Smith shortly before he died: Monsieur Oui, the poodle of Brussels. This small-minded outburst was motivated by the Conservative Party's deep divisions over Europe. But it is something that Labour politicians continually keep in mind: they can run the risk of being exposed on Europe. Tory opponents of the EU draw on deep wells of suspicion in Britain, and the Labour Party, too, has its doubters.
Over the next few months, Mrs Green will be responsible for welding together the group's stance before the negotiations next year to rewrite the Maastricht treaty. Tomorrow, the party begins a two-day seminar that will examine how far the EU should go. Mrs Green will be working with Mrs Guigou, who has already set out in a 30-page document proposals for what should be the socialist line. There is plenty of room for embarrassment here.
MRS Green has already made clear that some of Mrs Guigou's ideas will not wash. The ending of national vetoes, for instance: "The socialist group will support retention of the national veto," she says. The idea of an elected president of the union is "unrealistic". The proposal that a vanguard group of states can take off on their own is also out of the question: "The socialist group does not support the idea of a hard-core Europe. We think that fundamentally alters the nature of the treaty."
Mrs Green, like Robin Cook and Tony Blair, phrases her European credo in terms that are far from the fundamentalist faith of some of her European colleagues. Europe means "developing the common threads that unite us all as European peoples", she says. "The strength of Europe is in its diversity." She is pragmatic, too, on the question of monetary union. "In principle, I have no problems with a single currency," she says. But she adds: "I am a firm believer in the proper convergence of the economies." And as for a referendum, "we may have to look at how the people of Britain are consulted on this". But she will - of course - back new powers for the parliament. "The 1996 intergovernmental conference should not be about transferring new powers and competencies to the European Union, but about transferring control of decision-making to the people of Europe," she told the London School of Economics on Friday.
There is little doubt that the experiences of the past decade have helped weld Europe and the Labour movement more closely together, and Mrs Green is proof of that. But the party's line on some of the most important issues is still hazy, or vague, or deliberately obscure. Monetary union, which would take away any remaining power for Labour over monetary policy, may be tricky for Tony Blair, as for John Major. Political union - sapping the strength of Westminster - could be equally difficult. So far, theparty has had an easy run on Europe. What yet remains to be seen is how strong the link between Labour and Europe proves when it is subjected to pressure.Reuse content