Tory MEP: Lisbon ratification can wait

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The conservative group hopes that Czech President Václav Klaus and his Polish counterpart Lech Kaczynski won’t sign their Lisbon Treaty ratifications, preventing the EU’s reform treaty from entering into force until the UK Tories have come into power next spring, Geoffrey van Orden, a leading conservative MEP, told EURACTIV in an interview.

Geoffrey van Orden is a founding me
mber of the European Conservatives and Reformists group, an anti-federalist group established in the current European Parliament around the British Conservatives, who left the European People’s Party at the last elections.

He was speaking to Georgi Gotev.

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.

How did your group receive José Manuel Barroso, who is seeking re-election as president of the European Commission, and his programme?

We had a good meeting with Barroso. We were the first political group that he came to. Like all groups, we have mixed feelings about Barroso, because naturally, as the president of the Commission, he is committed to this whole European integration project, which we have very strong reservations about. 

But on the other hand, what we do like about him is his commitment to reform of the economic situation, and the need to invest more in research and development [and] improve competitiveness. He talked about smart regulations. 

My view is the Commission should do less, better. It churns out too much regulations, a lot of the regulation is unhelpful, particularly in the present economic climate. So he talked about smart regulation, and I said ‘Do you mean like smart munitions, which if they don’t work self-destruct?’. He thought that was amusing. But I was actually quite serious, because I think there should be some such clauses in the regulations. 

But he is committed to making the Commission more efficient, cutting back on some of these things we find difficult. 

Also I told him that we hear a lot about the Lisbon Treaty, but not so much on the Lisbon agenda, the ambitious plan from the year 2000 to make the EU the most knowledge-based economy [in the world] by the year 2010, and 2010 is next year. But he is very conscious of this. 

So I would like to think he will be willing to focus on the economically helpful, as in the past we think the Commission has been rather a brake on economic progress. So, on the basis of his record, his background, what he said to us, we will support him.

Does your group take offence at qualifications like ‘pro-European majority’, from which it is excluded? Liberal group leader Guy Verhofstadt introduced this concept basically so he could sideline your group, don’t you think?

I think it would be quite wrong to cast our group as anti-European. We are anti-federalist. We want to respect subsidiarity, we don’t want more European integration. But we think there are some useful things that the EU can do. We’re not a withdrawalist group. We’re a Euro-realist group, and I would like to emphasise that. 

In this European Parliament, what would be very sensible would be for the centre-right to work together, because after all, that would be to reflect the wishes of the electorate. And the last thing we want to see is the continuation of this grand coalition between the CDU and the SPD, reflected in this Parliament.

Don’t you think that the Barroso vote, in which you will join the EPP and most of the Liberals in voting for him while the Socialists will abstain or vote against, makes the Verhofstadt project irrelevant?

Verhofstadt, I think, has problems in his own group. I don’t think most Liberals agree with Verhofstadt. He’s been trying to create some sort of left bloc in the Parliament. Well, if he wants to get into bed with socialists, with communists, so be it. I think most members of his group would be more comfortable working closely with ourselves and the EPP. Our attitude to economic matters is closer.

What will happen to the Lisbon Treaty?

I sincerely hope that it fails.

Where? In Ireland or in the Czech Republic?

Well, one possibility is Ireland: they have a referendum next month. Then of course we have two presidents who have not yet ratified the treaty.

They have not signed the ratification act. But what do you tell them? They are from your political family. Do you tell them, ‘Don’t sign!’

We don’t tell them anything. They are presidents of sovereign countries.

Have you some advance information as to what their intentions are?

Our hope is they will not ratify this treaty until the general election in the United Kingdom. That’s going to come not later than next June, probably next May. And if there is a general election, the probability is that the Conservative party would win that election, and that it would give the British people a referendum [on the Lisbon Treaty]. And I have no doubt what the answer of the British people on the Lisbon Treaty will be. As by the way, it would be the same answer within most European countries, if the citizens had been given the opportunity to express themselves.

But don’t you think these presidents will be under tremendous pressure to sign the ratification if the Irish people say ‘yes’? After all, the ratification process has been completed. They cannot oppose the sovereign decision taken.

First think I would say, there is no wonder people are increasingly disillusioned with politics in all of our countries, if they see politicians taking the decisions they don’t want them to take. That’s my first comment. Secondly, yes, all of these leaders have been under enormous pressure, and that pressure is likely to continue. 

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