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Straight Talking - June 2005 Special Edition

Love Europe. Hate the European Union

Roger Helmer's electronic newsletter from Brussels

Please feel free to distribute this newsletter, or to quote from it. It is primarily written for Conservative Party members and activists in the East Midlands, but may also be of interest to others concerned about developments in the EU. If you want to go onto the e-mail list please click here.

Helmer disciplined for opposing EU cronyism

You may have seen in the press that the Conservative delegation in the European parliament has decided to suspend my Conservative whip. I remain, of course, a member of the European parliament and of the Conservative Party.

The facts are below. But first, a word about the EPP political group in the parliament, of which the British Conservative MEPs are members. It is the largest group, and is dominated by the German Christian Democrats. Its leader Hans-Gert Poettering (HGP) is a German Christian Democrat. It is often to the left of New Labour, and is passionately federalist. Last week, HGP declared that he would expel me from his group, and added: "No one, but no one, must be allowed to shake our resolve as we continue to build European integration."

I am surprised that it has taken six years for Mr. Poettering to notice that I have dedicated my career to "shaking resolve for political integration". But bear in mind that HGP was speaking for the whole group, including the Conservatives. Many Conservatives who voted in good faith for a more flexible Europe and for the repatriation of a range of powers from Brussels will be horrified, as I am, to think that this man is representing us in the European parliament.

So, to the story.

Free holiday on a luxury yacht

Last July, José Manuel Barroso, a Portuguese, was nominated as President of the EU Commission. In August, he and his family enjoyed a six-day holiday on a luxury yacht owned by multi-billionaire Greek shipowner Spiros Latsis. In September, the Commission nodded through (under EU state-aid rules) a €10 million grant to a company largely owned by Latsis. Last week in parliament we heard of further business relations between the Commission and companies in which Latsis has an interest.

Barroso says that Latsis is an old family friend, and that the holiday took place before he was confirmed as Commission President. This may be so, but it still leaves a bad smell. The Commission President, like Caesar's wife, should be above suspicion. It certainly amounts to cronyism, if not worse.

Some MEPs called on Barroso to come to the parliament and explain himself. He showed great reluctance, so the MEPs adopted the tactic of a Motion of Censure. This was a moderate motion: it did not accuse Barroso of wrong-doing, but merely asked him to explain himself. The motion required 74 signatures (10% of the members), and some 77 signed. I want to stress that these MEPs came from many parties and many countries, and not all were euro-sceptics. It was not, as some reported, "a UKIP motion", although Nigel Farage was the first signatory.

Cover-up by the EU establishment

The larger political groups in the parliament closed ranks to oppose the motion, fearful of negative publicity ahead of the French referendum. Their first tactic was to try to pressure MEPs into withdrawing their names from the motion, and I am sorry to report that the five Conservative signatories (myself, Chris Heaton-Harris, Dan Hannan, Martin Callanan and David Sumberg) received letters threatening "very serious consequences" unless we removed our names. But we stuck to our guns.

Their next tactic, after the first failed, was to use a procedural device to prevent any of the dissidents from speaking. They agreed in the "Conference of Presidents" (the committee of heads of political groups) that there would be only one speaker per group. So again, HGP spoke for the Conservatives and no dissidents were on the list. It was in this debate that he made the infamous comment noted above.

However I managed to find a little-known parliamentary rule (No. 141) that allows any member to put a question to a listed speaker. So I managed to speak in the censure debate, in front of the parliament, the whole EU Commission, and the world's press. Needless to say, I made a robust attack on the political leadership in the parliament and their desperate attempts to silence dissent.

This infuriated both HGP and, I am afraid, Timothy Kirkhope. The other four Conservative signatories have received "Final Warning Letters". I have had the whip suspended, and I expect to be ejected from the EPP.

I believe I did the right thing

I was elected on a Manifesto commitment to oppose fraud and corruption in the EU institutions. I believe therefore that I had a duty to honour that commitment and to hold the Commission to account in a case that certainly involved cronyism, and potentially involved corruption. If there is any case for disciplinary action, it should surely be directed at Kirkhope for seeking to frustrate a clear manifesto commitment.

Political opponents are circulating mischievous suggestions that I intend to leave the party and join UKIP. This is entirely false. I was elected as a Conservative, I sit as a Conservative and I expect eventually to die a Conservative.

Meantime I have had huge support from Conservatives across the region (and across the country), from Regional Chairman Dudley Bryant, from MPs and former PPCs. They believe that I was right to take this stand, and have urged me to stand firm. My problem is with the Tory delegation in Brussels, not with the Conservative Party at home. My thanks to all who have been in touch. I shall continue to work for the Party, and to represent my constituents in the East Midlands.

It is not clear what will happen next. I should be happy when the dust has settled to reach an accommodation with the delegation, but having spent six years trying to get out of the EPP, I shall not be in a hurry to rejoin.


See also President Barroso and the motion of censure.