Britain has refused to pay another £30 billion to bail-out euro nations and David Cameron has said he would “fight” the International Monetary Fund’s plan to make the UK hand over yet more money. This is the latest sign of what Europeans might say is a complete refusal to help prop up the European economy.
It seems the UK has become increasingly isolated in Europe but why?
Some blame our isolation on David Cameron’s decision to leave the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) in 2009 for the more extreme European Conservatives Reformists Group (ECR).
The ECR is considered “too far right” and “extreme” by its critics and the group received negative press when Polish priest, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, known for his anti-semitic and homophobic views was invited to the European Parliament by MEP’s from the ECR.
The ECR, at its core, has 56 MEPs from nine countries and is currently the fourth largest group in the EU with membership from the Czech Republic and Poland.
While joining the group angered Cameron’s political opponents, Tory backbenchers greeted the decision with roars of approval. But, is it fair to criticise the Tories for joining the ECR or did they simply have no choice?
Johnathan Evans, who was elected MEP for Wales in 1999, led the Conservatives in their then membership of the EPP (European People’s Party) but he thinks that us leaving the EPP has no relevance on the current European situation because it is “all water under the bridge”.
He believes that when he was MEP he negotiated and got deals on issues that were in Britain’s interests. However, Cameron would not be able to agree such things now, and those that blame the ECR for Cameron’s veto are looking at an “old argument”
“We cannot be members of the EPP anymore because those concessions that I fought for could not be won nowadays. The group is now committed to economic and political union”, he said.
Critics of Cameron say that he has distanced himself from other European leaders by leaving the People’s party. On the eve of the eurozone meeting, in which Cameron used his veto, there was a dinner for all EPP members including the German Chancellor and the French Prime Minister.
Richard Howitt, Labour MEP for the East of England said: "If we were still part of the EPP we would have been at that meeting, influencing things. We would have been able to set up a deal, but David Cameron has left us out on talks on the eurozone, he is serial offender."
Being absent at that dinner could explain why Cameron was not able to come to agreement with other EU countries on the eurozone crisis, testifying to the old adage "you need a seat at the table to eat".
Lib Dem political commentator Stephen Tall said: "The decision to move from the ECR to the EPP certainly affected things. It set the path for where we are now."
He described David Cameron's decision to join the ECR as "populist" but said we are seeing the "impact of that now", arguing that breaking away from centre-right European parties made it more difficult for Britain to negotiate deals and gain concessions.
"The vast majority of the European parliament has a centre right government in power but still the UK finds itself on its own in Europe. There is more David Cameron could have done," Stephen Tall concluded.
Although, there is some truth in the thinking that membership of the ECR has distanced us from other European countries, arguably, it is not something that the Conservative party could have avoided. Britain has been moving away from Europe for some time.
Mark Reckless, Tory MP for Rochester and Strood, said: "The EPP has a different agenda to ours, based on Cameron standing up to treaty changes and out of the EPP we now have a new relationship with Europe where we trade and govern ourselves.
"We don't share the same agenda as the EPP, we don't want a political union in Europe", he said.
John Redwood, Conservative MP for Wokingham, thinks people should not just accept “silly spin” on European issues saying: “You don’t need to be at the EPP dinner to know what Merkel and Sarkozy decided, we find out at general meetings and it doesn’t matter if you are told a day or two earlier. They [Sarkozy and Merkel] are now running the show and making the EU agenda.”
Whatever opinion you favour, it is clear that Cameron’s veto has simply solidified Britain’s place on the fringes of the EU - a position that was outlined as far back as 2009.
Johnathan Evans said: “In a sense we cannot be members of the EPP without the concessions I secured in 1999, the argument is a bit of stale one.”
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