Free-market eurosceptics join forces

05.12.05 @ 17:46

  1. By Mark Beunderman

BRUSSELS - While free marketeers from politics and think tanks launched a new eurosceptic network in Brussels on Monday (5 December), the possible election of David Cameron as UK conservative leader could prompt the formation of a new anti-EU integration group in the European Parliament.

Both initiatives have emerged from the British Tory party, who UK papers are confident will elect eurosceptic David Cameron as new party leader on Tuesday.

Conservative member of the European Parliament Daniel Hannan initiated today's "Congress of Brussels", a gathering of right-of centre politicians and think tanks across Europe.

The network, which goes by the name "Alliance for an Open Europe" wants to establish a loose alternative to the existing EU, based on the sovereignty of nation states, but firmly promoting free trade and transatlantic ties.

Participants included, apart from UK conservatives, Czech members of the ODS party of president Vaclav Klaus, politicians of Polish government party Law and Justice and French Mouvement pour la France members.

Politicians from Iceland, Portugal and Sweden took part in the meeting - as well as a range of libertarian-oriented think tanks from 30 countries as far afield as Albania, Israel and the US.

"We are united by more than we are against", said Mr Hannan, explaining that network members were not only against the current "federal EU juggernaut", but also strongly in favour of "free enterprise" and for a "maximum devolution of power".

Parliament re-shuffle

Participants said the combination of eurosecpticism and economic liberalism would also be championed by a new group in the European Parliament, which appears to be on the cards in the event of a Cameron victory.

Mr Cameron has pledged to pull his MEPs out of the centre-right pro-integration EPP group in the European Parliament once elected, paving the way for a possible far-reaching realignment of EU lawmakers.

Although a number of UK tories are opposed to leaving the EPP, conservatives present at today's conference said they expected the majority of MEPs to immediately found a new, free-market and anti-EU integration grouping after a Cameron victory.

The core of the group would be formed by UK conservatives, Czech ODS members and Polish Law and Justice MEPs, and possibly be joined by Swedish June list members, Baltic liberals and Irish centre-right MEPs.

Paradoxically, the socialists in the Parliament are said to be cheering over the prospect of a Cameron victory, as British and Czech members leaving the EPP would leave the socialist PES as the largest faction in parliament.

Meanwhile, the UEN "Europe of Nations" group, the existing eurosceptic Independence and Democracy group and the liberal ALDE could also see their number of seats shrink.

One source even said centre-right eurosceptics could form the third-largest party in parliament.

Free market?

But although the centre-right formation would be more politically homogeneous than the existing eurosceptic Independence and Democracy group, which comprises Danish leftists as well as Polish conservatives and Dutch protestants, a new group is likely to witness vivid discussions on its economic stances.

While British conservatives like Mr Hannan are championing radical de-regulation and "regulatory competition" between states, Law and Justice is known in Poland for its uneasiness with free market economics.

Law and Justice members have proposed to limit investment by big western supermarkets, to protect the country's shipping industry, and to increase welfare spending.

A conservative source said that Law and Justice is "sort of more or less" a free market party, but he added that "we do not expect any party to fully support our policies as long as there is broad trust".