Over on ConservativeHome, Charles Tannock MEP has contributed the piece Conservative MEPs - what are the options for alliances? in the latest stage of the ongoing discussion about where Conservative MEPs should sit in the European Parliament.
I've blogged before that I don't entirely care about this specific issue (Who cares where someone sits on the wrong train?) but it does raise some key wider questions about where the Conservative Party stands internationally.
It's now often forgotten that when the Conservatives originally joined the European People's Party back in the early 1990s it was the EPP who were the most reluctant about the arrangement, questioning whether Conservatism really does sit easily with Christian Democracy, the dominant strand of centre-right opinion in much of Europe (although the Czech Civic Democratic Party is an exception, drawing its inspiration from the Conservatives). Conservatism and Christian Democracy are not entirely compatible and to a large extent it is the differences that have resulted in very different attitudes to the European Union.
It's also worth considering the preferences of Conservative party members, particularly as the EPP issue has been driven from the grassroots. Fourteen months ago ConservativeHome included in their regular survey the question "who is your favourite right-of-centre/ conservative (and elected) leader in the world today?" The options were George W. Bush, Stephen Harper, John Howard, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy. The result was a landslide for John Howard (sadly not repeated in the Australian election the following month). Only 27% of respondents chose the Europeans Merkel and Sarkozy. I don't think that was just because of their relative merits.
(Of course how would such a poll gonow? In a couple of months it seems the options will be just Merkel, Sarkozy and John Key, with the last evincing the "who he?" reaction that Harper got last time, and even Sarkozy may drop off for his leftward drift.)
The Conservative Party is notable as one of the few parties that are members of the European Democrat Union that is not also affiliated to the European Peopl's Party, making the connection in the European Parliament even more strained. Whilst strong connections have been made with centre-right parties in the Anglosphere (in the case of some of the US Republicans the connections are too strong), where are the equivalent strong links with parties in Europe?