Establishing a new conservative, anti-Lisbon and anti-federalist group in the European Parliament will not weaken the European People’s Party, Geoffrey Van Orden, a leading Conservative MEP, told EURACTIV in a telephone interview.
UK Conservative MEP Geoffrey Van Orden acted as Tory leader David Cameron’s ‘point-man’ in Brussels for the new political project.
Over the weekend, British Conservative leader David Cameron formed a new alliance in Warsaw with the Czech Civic Democratic Party (ODS) led by former Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, and the Law and Justice Party (PiS) of former Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczy?ski. This triggered many critical reactions, also British Conservative circles, as the new group will split from the European People’s Party. Are you one of those in line with Mr. Cameron?
Absolutely! I’ve been playing a key role in Brussels, in helping to put together the new group. And I’ve been working very closely with our shadow Europe minister in London [Mark Francois], and in fact this weekend I’ve been in Prague and Warsaw with David Cameron and Mark Francois.
Do you expect arm-twisting from other parties, like in EPP circles, for the decision to establish a new group to be reversed?
Well, we have had a lot of arm-twisting, for the last two years. And I’m sure that would go on. And we had comments from surprising quarters, ranging from the vice-chairman of the Chinese Communist party, to a neighbouring foreign secretary. We’ve clearly got a lot of people worried.
Is your move seen as giving an advantage to the Party of European Socialists?
Of course [the move] won’t give any advantage to the Socialists. On the contrary, and that’s why they are speaking so much against it. Because they realise there will be a further centre-right voice in the European Parliament, but this time the voice will be in opposition to the federalist ambition of the European Union.
We want to have the European Union talking about the real priorities: the priorities of economic growth and employment, and dealing with the concerns of our citizens. And the fact is that the EU at the moment has become remote from our citizens, and they want more control over the decisions that are being taken, and they want politicians who would be responsive to their needs and their wishes.
But can you explain how exactly the decision to deplete the EPP from 60 or more MEPs will not give an advantage to the Socialists?
First, I would say we are not necessarily taking 60 or more MEPs from the EPP-ED group. The MEPs that join us would come from a number of parties, some currently represented in the European Parliament, and some possibly some that are not. And in any case, we will work very closely with the EPP on those issues where we are in agreement.
And so I don’t see any ground of concern about socialists getting an advantage. I have to say, when the left comes together, the Socialists already have a majority in the Parliament, which is why we get so much ridiculous legislation coming out of the Parliament. And why so many laws are being passed through the Parliament which are damaging to our economy.
But if the Party of European Socialists emerges as the largest group following the elections, will they have the right to choose a Socialist candidate to lead the European Commission?
I think you are making a lot of assumptions there, and I don’t see why the EPP wouldn’t continue to be the largest group in the Parliament. And they will be supported in some of these key areas by our new group. I’ve no doubt there will be some fundamental areas where we disagree. But there will be a lot of areas where we do agree.
A sort of loose alliance, then?
No, there will be no alliance at all between us. But this is not a reason why we should not work closely together.
Regarding the Lisbon Treaty, what’s on your agenda?
As far as the British Conservatives are concerned, we are firmly opposed to the Lisbon Treaty. That is a classical example of where our citizens should be consulted. In many countries they did not have the opportunity. We do know that when they are consulted, they tend to say ‘no’.
And the fact is, the Lisbon Treaty is transferring a massive sway of new powers to the European institutions, and this is not what our citizens want. They want more control over their politicians at home and on their own governments, which are directly responsible to them.
There is some similarity between your positions and Declan Ganley’s Libertas. If Libertas manages to have MEPs elected, will you be working closely with them?
Libertas, like us, opposes the Treaty of Lisbon. Let us see if anyone gets elected under the Libertas banner and we will review the situation after 7 June.
You are a candidate youself. What are your personal ambitions in the next European Parliament?
I will continue to work hard on behalf of the people of the United Kingdom and of the East of England in particular. I hope to have a key role in the new group, but that is up to its members.
As the Parliament’s rapporteur on Bulgaria, you were a staunch supporter of its accession. Are you also in favour of Turkey’s accession?
I think there are a lot of different views about Turkey’s accession. My personal view, and the view of the British Conservative party, is that we take a positive view of Turkey’s accession to the EU, recognising that this is going to take a long time, that the criteria have to be properly fulfilled, and that there are changes that need to take place both in Turkey and in the European Union. So that is something for the future.