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Despite a string of parliamentary defeats on the Lisbon Treaty, the Conservatives' prospects for shedding their historic difficulties over Europe are brighter than they have been for years. Successive "No" votes in three other member states - first on the Constitution, then on the Treaty - have aligned them with aspirations and dissatisfactions well beyond Britain and bought them a breathing space to develop a serious long-term European strategy.

Tory electoral tacticians will be tempted to heave a sigh of relief and revert to their traditional position of hoping that Europe will go away, on the grounds that focus groups rank it low on the list of voter concerns. A competing aim of eurosceptic activists, if only to outflank the UK Independence Party (UKIP) will be to get the leadership to earmark a few more policy areas for recapture from the EU, on top of the existing pledge on the Social Chapter.

Both these approaches should now be abandoned. Europe is not about to go away, with the European elections due next year and a number of issues, such as emissions trading and regional policy, crying out for a thoughtful Conservative response. As for the sceptics' addiction to shopping-lists of policies they want repatriated, by advertising a handful of difficult to achieve negotiating targets guarantees that we will get the worst of every European summit bargain. It worked once, when John Major obtained the opt-out on the single currency, but in that case he was able to hold the entire Maastricht Treaty to ransom and the result could not be circumvented: in normal circumstances, such victories are either illusory or far too dearly won.

The EU has no intention of leaving the Tories in peace. It is urgently casting around to nullify Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty quickly enough to narrow the options for the Cameron government that Brussels now expects. David Cameron's promise to hold a referendum on the Treaty if it has not come in to force by the time he enters Downing Street hangs like a guillotine over the ambitions of the euro-élites.

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tom kremer
October 9th, 2008
4:10 PM
The current crisis offers a great opportunity to the Conservative Party. In the coming European elections it should focus on an emergency reduction of the EU budget. The whole of Europe, private and public will have to tighten its belt. There is every reason that such a move will prove popular with the electorate of all CONTRIBUTING countries. It would be difficult for Merkel, or even Sarkozy, to oppose a reduction in the money flow from the national states to an un-audited central account.

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