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Coffee and croissants with Barroso won't solve Tory trouble in Europe

Today Catherine Bearder MEP wrote a blog on Tory isolationism in Europe for the Guardian's Comment Is Free section.

Please see below for the full text:

Ken Clarke's legendary hush puppies made no sound this week as they padded their way to EU Commission President Barroso's office. True, the Daily Telegraph got wind of the story last Monday, but between then and the Shadow Business Secretary's return home there was no further media comment, no photographic evidence and not so much as a press release to mark the occasion. For the Tories, this silence qualifies as a result. Their only pro-European big gun, Clarke's mission was to build bridges in advance of a General Election which, if the Tories were to win it, would usher in the most destructive, anti-European government in British history. This task was not an easy one. The last thing David Cameron wanted is to carry it out in public. Either his emissary went to Barroso with all eurosceptic guns blazing and annoyed those who matter most or else he makes cooing noises that would set off spasms of fury from the Tories' euro-hostile majority. You can understand why this meeting was not for public consumption.

Ultimately, whatever Clarke said, actions speak louder than words. The Conservatives have shown, over and over, their absolute intent to remain in splendid isolation. Their MEPs refused to endorse Barroso's new Commission, despite many voting in favour of his first team in 2004. They quit the centre-right bloc in the European Parliament to create a new right-wing Group whose members are variously associated with homophobic, anti-Semitic and climate change denying tendencies. Latterly - and attracting less media interest - they have also quit their mainstream party in the Brussels-based Committee of the Regions.

This institution includes representatives of local government from across the EU, and helps shape regional policy. Tory councillors wanted to stay in their EPP Group: from those seats they were able to exert real influence on policy decisions. They even thought that Conservative Central Office would let them. At the last minute, however, Messrs Cameron and Hague pulled them out. Attempts to hijack other Groups - or create their own - were firmly rebuffed and the Conservatives now sit alone. Whereas Tory MEPs are sitting shoulder to should with right-wing madmen, Tory councillors in the Committee of the Regions find themselves in the same boat as far left politicians. Others that were unable to find a party included Greek Marxists and Spain's United Left Mayor of Cordoba, whose party brings together communists, anti-capitalists, republicans and radical greens.

The Conservative Party aspires to lead Britain, has more local councillors than any other UK party and claims to champion local government. To end up unaligned and impotent in European regional policy-making is both foolish and unnecessary. More than that, it is yet another example of the Conservatives' inability to understand the EU and to get the best out of it for British citizens. Ken Clarke must surely know that, and understand that it will take a great deal more than coffee and croissants with the Commission President to sort it out.


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