Plans to form new MEP group kicked into 2009
UK conservative leader David Cameron has withdrawn his plan to form a new eurosceptic group in the European Parliament by the end of July, delaying the move until 2009.
In a joint declaration with Mirek Topolanek, the head of Czech civic democrats (ODS) and currently involved in coalition talks to form a Czech government, the two centre-right leaders announced they would "found the Movement for European Reform."
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The new gathering would be "dedicated to the ideals of a more modern, open, flexible and decentralised European Union, ready to face the challenges of the 21st century," and open to "other like-minded parties of other nations, including both existing and candidate members of the EU," the document stated.
MEPs from both parties currently form a sub-faction in the pro-EU integration European People's Party (EPP-ED), the biggest group in the European Parliament.
But despite Mr Cameron's promise to break away from the group and set up a new one this year, the two allies have agreed to postpone the move until after the next European elections, due in 2009.
Problems in Prague
The issue has proved controversial for the ODS - still trying unsuccessfully to form a government in Prague.
The Czech centre-right parties that signed a coalition agreement do not have enough votes to get their candidates through for the national parliament's presidency, which is a condition for a new cabinet to be approved.
After a series of unsuccessful rounds of voting, the ODS asked the social democrats to join coalition talks, but the deadlock has still not been resolved.
Mr Topolanek did not want to complicate the situation with an extra controversy over the new European Parliament's group and confirmed earlier this week that the issue is off the table until 2009.
Although the Czech ODS has been the key associate of British Tories behind the break-away plans, UK deputies are already criticising Mr Cameron for his failure to fulfill his promise - made in the run up to his election to the party's helm.
"I am disappointed that we have not been able to take this policy forward immediately," commented British MEP Geoffrey Van Orden - one of the strongest advocates of setting up a new group.
However, he praised the conservative leadership for maintaining the "commitment to leave the EPP" and also the promise from the Czech ODS "to join us in building the new political force in 2009. I trust that other signatories will soon be forthcoming."
The UK's conservative think-tank Bruges Group - formally headed by Margaret Thatcher - has slammed Mr Cameron's new timetable as a "broken pledge" arguing it is "a tiny fig leaf that fails to cover the predicament."
On the other hand, the leader of the centre-right EPP-ED, Hans-Gert Poettering found it "regrettable" that today's statement by Mr Cameron and Mr Topolanek "does not recognise the substantial and positive contribution by a large majority of Conservative and ODS MEPs within the EPP-ED Group."
He said the declaration was not helpful or necessary, adding the agreement between the UK conservatives and the EPP-ED group to work together until 2009 will now be "kept in the letter if not in the spirit."