The United Kingdom has (finally) left the European Union, the union flag has been taken down and UK MEPs have packed their bags, said ‘au revoir’ to Brussels and hopped on the Eurostar home.
As I set out in the inaugural piece on Conservatives Global, our main purpose is to build a united movement across the globe to make the case for conservatism. When the Brits left Brussels, it also meant that the UK Conservative Party is no longer a part of the European Conservative Group in the European Parliament. Therefore, I was delighted, during a visit to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, to see that the political grouping which includes UK Conservative MPs is absolutely thriving.
Not many people understand the work of the Council of Europe – and there is no reason that they should as it has lived in the shadow of the EU for decades. One of the most common misconceptions is that the Council of Europe is an EU institution. It is not.
Founded in 1949, the purpose of the Council of Europe is to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law across Europe. There are 47 member states and interestingly, no country has ever joined the EU without first being a member of the Council of Europe. One of the most famous bodies of the Council of Europe is the European Court of Human Rights (which, again, is often wrongly linked with the EU).
Within the Council of Europe, there is a Parliamentary Assembly and each Member State sends representatives from their national parliaments to participate. In this assembly, the UK Conservative Party sits in a political grouping called the European Conservatives Group & Democratic Alliance (EC/DA).
Given the Conservative Party’s previous form on international outreach, the EC/DA is somewhat surprising. For too long, the Conservative Party has insisted on aligning with weak centrist foreign parties and there seemed a real reluctance by many in the Party establishment to engage with those who demonstrated genuine conservative credentials. There was even a point under the Cameron regime where the Party were sending UK campaigners over to campaign for the US Democrats, shunning natural bedfellows; the Republicans.
It is therefore extremely encouraging to see the growth of the EC/DA, which is full to the brim with ‘small c’ conservative parties from throughout Europe. The EC/DA is led by Tory MP Ian Liddell-Grainger and now boasts 75 members of parliament. It is a diverse set up with political parties from across Europe, including the Freedom Party of Austria, the New Azerbaijan Party, the Lithuanian Peasant and Green Union, Law and Justice (Poland), Alternative for Germany (Germany), Lega Salvini Premier (Italy, Civic Democratic Party (Czech Republic), Sweden Democrats, Progress Party (Norway), Prosperous Armenia, Danish People’s Party, Patriots of Georgia, The Finns Party (Finland) and the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia, to name a few.
There are some conservatives that are uneasy with the political positions of some of the parties in the EC/DA, although I believe that this is somewhat unfair and fails to look at the wider picture. Politics is very different across Europe and the context of which a political party operates should always be considered and it is absolutely essential that the UK Conservative Party maintain these important relations with likeminded individuals from so many different countries.
The Council of Europe is dominated by the left and the EC/DA is building an opposition to this, by opposing bad legislation (trust me, there is a lot of it) when it passes through the Parliamentary Assembly.
But the job of the EC/DA, as with all conservatives goes deeper than this. As I wrote when I launched Conservatives Global just a few weeks ago, increasing numbers of people, particularly in younger generations, are siding with communism and socialism – an ideology that always produces murderous, repressive and totalitarian regimes no matter the country or situation.
This rejection of conservatism must be tackled and uniting conservative politicians from across Europe in groupings like the EC/DA is an important initiative and should be applauded and supported by the UK Conservative Party.