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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 July 2006, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Q&A: The Tories and the EPP
By Stephen Mulvey
BBC News EU reporter

Mirek Topolanek and David Cameron
Topolanek and Cameron want a decentralised union

The UK's Conservative Party has announced it will form a new party in the European Parliament in 2009.

Its main partners will be the Czech Civic Democratic Party (ODS).

But what is the idea behind the move, why is it going to take so long, and what will it mean for the Tories in Europe and for the balance of forces in the European Parliament?

What are the Conservatives planning to leave?

The 26 Conservative MEPs and one Ulster Unionist, are currently members of the largest political group in the European Parliament, the centre-right EPP-ED.

The EPP part of the alliance, the European People's Party, is dominated by members of Europe's Christian Democratic parties.

The ED part, the European Democrats, is made up of the Conservatives, the Czech ODS party, and one or two others.

The plan is for the ED part to break away.

Why do the Conservatives want to sever links with the EPP?

The EPP members are keen supporters of European integration, whereas the Conservative Party is not.

Up to now the Conservatives have concluded that the advantages of being part of a big group in the parliament outweigh the disadvantage of having different visions of Europe.

But the enlargement of the European Union has meant that there are now many more MEPs with a similar Eurosceptic or Eurorealist outlook, so the chance of creating a reasonably-sized group has increased.

Why is it going to take until 2009?

We will found the Movement for European Reform, dedicated to the ideals of a more modern, open, flexible and decentralised European Union
Joint declaration

One reason is that the ODS party is in the process of forming a coalition government with Europhile parties that support the EPP.

Some Conservative MEPs also pointed out that they had made a manifesto commitment to remain in the EPP-ED until the European election in 2009.

What will the new group stand for?

A joint declaration by Conservative leader David Cameron and ODS leader Mirek Topolanek says the Movement for European Reform will be "dedicated to the ideals of a more modern, open, flexible and decentralised European Union".

Mr Cameron is also expected to say that the new group will make the EU "confront its failings".

Can the Conservatives and the ODS form a group on their own?

No. A group in the European Parliament needs to have members from at least five different countries.

Which other parties will the Conservatives and the ODS target?

Originally there was speculation that the Polish Civic Platform and Law and Justice parties might sign up to the project - but the Civic Platform has said it will not leave the EPP, and Law and Justice has reportedly opted to stay in another group, the European for Union of Nations (UEN).

However, there are many smaller national delegations of centre-right MEPs who could be tempted to join up.

Assuming the plan works, what will the new group mean for the European Parliament?

Optimistic Conservatives believe the new group could become the third largest in the parliament, with 100 or more members.

The Christian Democrat EPP will remain a major force in the parliament, but will have difficulty matching the numbers of the other major group, the Party of European Socialists.

Will all Conservatives be happy with the plan?

The plan is reported to have been broadly welcomed by MEPs and backbench MPs. However there is likely to be some grumbling at both the anti-EU and pro-EU ends of the party.

Some Eurosceptic Conservatives have long been urging the party leaders to leave the EPP-ED immediately, whether or not they can find enough partners to form a new group.

On the other hand, one pro-EU MEP told the BBC that the Conservatives would have "zero" influence in the parliament for the next three years, and predicted difficulties maintaining good relations with the EPP.

What about members of the ODS and their Czech allies?

It is reported that the leader of ODS MEPs, Jan Zahradil, was always much keener than Mr Topolanek on breaking from the EPP.

Mr Topolanek, meanwhile, has to think about the other members of his future coalition government. It remains to be seen whether it will be easier for him to pull the ODS out of the EPP in 2009 than it is now.

Graphic of the European parliament
ALDE: Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (Liberal / Centrist)
PES: Party of European Socialists
Greens/EFA: Greens / European Free Alliance (Greens, nationalists and regionalists)
EUL/NGL: European United Left / Nordic Green Left (Far Left)
EPP-ED: European People's Party - European Democrats (Centre-Right)
UEN: Union for Europe of Nations (Right-wing, anti-federalists)
IND/DEM: Independence and Democracy (Eurosceptics)
NA: Not attached (MEPs not attached to any group

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