In just five years, the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) has gone from its creation, to becoming the third largest grouping in the European Parliament. Out of seven political families, ours benefitted from the European elections, and the swell of voters wanting to see the EU move in a different direction.
We are now the strongest group in the parliament arguing against the status quo: not for 'more Europe' and ever-closer union as espoused by the two largest groups, but not complete break-up either. We will become the leading advocates offering an alternative to the orthodoxy of the federalist groupings, looking to the challenges of the 2050s, instead of the dreams of the 1950s figures who founded the old EEC.
The growth of the ECR Group vindicates David Cameron's decision to form a new group in the parliament. When first formed, people were asking how long the group would last. Now they are asking how big we can become. Some said we would be side-lined, but we have shown that through hard work we are able to make a difference in promoting our agenda, even if in the parliament we are often swimming against the tide.
We have shown that it is possible to put forward a mainstream alternative to the EU's old direction, and to deliver results such as decentralising the EU's Fisheries Policy, delivering a smaller and better-directed budget, or securing reductions in the amount of red tape affecting our businesses. This agenda is chiming with people across Europe, delivering more supporters, more member parties and additional Members of the European Parliament. Slowly, but surely, we are seeking to turn the oil tanker to a new course.
With our extra strength we aim to have even more impact in the forthcoming parliament, showing that the EU does not face a binary choice between ever-more centralisation, or break-up. There is a different way that decentralises powers, trusts people more with their own lives, and promotes cooperation between governments and autonomous peoples.
When the ECR was formed, people argued that being part of a smaller block to the European People's Party would lead to isolation. Actually, I believe the opposite has happened. In the European Parliament, every decision must be made by building a coalition, and by generating consensus. Over the past five years, our group was crucial when it came to forming centre and centre-right majorities to defeat the Left. More importantly, the ECR provides us with a seat at all the important tables of the parliament, including its top table which controls the parliament's agenda. We also hold the chairmanship of the important Internal Market committee where my colleague Vicky Ford MEP can use her skill to help develop a single market that enables entrepreneurs to create jobs and opportunities.
ECR MEPs also hold one of the European Parliament's Vice-Presidencies, the chairmanship of the Security and Defence subcommittee, and a number of other important posts in parliament and its committees. When legislation is being debated, we have the ability to put forward our point of view, rather than having someone who may not share our views doing it for us. We have been able to win debates and build consensus based on the merits of an idea and the force of our arguments. Now, as the third largest group, we will be able to articulate our views in every room with even more potency.
As a British Conservative, I always felt uneasy speaking a message of major reform in my London constituency and then coming to Brussels to sit in a group whose leadership often did not share that vision, even if some of its members did. Now we have the best of both worlds: the ability to articulate our own vision for the future of the EU, whilst cooperating with the EPP and other groups on areas where we share mutual interests.
We have planted a flag in Brussels which will be a rallying point for others who favour reform and renegotiation in Europe, including those MEPs currently in different political groups in the parliament. Anyone who believes Europe has lost its way and has to change, will know that they will never lack friendship or support from the ECR.
The group will only continue to grow as people across Europe continue to seek constructive change in the European Union and opposition to the call for 'more Europe' as the answer to any problem. Instead, we will seek to promote ideas for a 'Better Europe' that is more flexible, decentralised and which looks at how it can tackle challenges rather than expand its powers.
The ECR will be the official opposition to federalism, but we will not just oppose. We will propose alternatives.
We believe that there is another way for the EU, and so do the people of the EU's member states. That is why our agenda for change will continue to grow in size and stature, and why the ECR will continue to go from strength to strength.