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Martin Callanan MEP

Position: Leader of the Conservative MEPs

Last Updated: Friday, April 8th, 2011

The leader of the Conservative MEPs is not a figure who we have been used to reading about in the British press, whoever has held that position, for as long as Britain has been sending representatives to Brussels.

But over the last couple of days, the name of Martin Callanan – Leader of the Conservative MEPs since November last year – has appeared in virtually all national newspapers in regard to the Portuguese bailout.

The reason why the media have suddenly shown an interest in his views is that for the last week – starting with this article on ConservativeHome – he has been saying that the UK should refuse to participate in the bailout. 

He has said that the use of the so-called Article 122 powers – supposed to cover emergency EU funding to a state after “natural disasters or exceptional occurrences beyond its control” – should not be used to fund bailouts, since running an economy responsibly is not something that is beyond a country’s control.

The use of such power should be challenged in the European Court, he has suggested.

The emergence of Callanan as leader of the Tory MEPs at the end of last year was a significant development for Conservative eurosceptics, amongst whose number he can undoubtedly be counted. Before 1999 (i.e. the 1994 intake and their predecessors) Tory MEPs had been enthusiasts for the European Union, almost to a man.

Then, as the party became avowedly more eurosceptic under William Hague’s leadership, a new breed of Tory MEPs emerged at the 1999 elections, including Callanan and the “H-Block” of Daniel Hannan, Roger Helmer and Chris Heaton-Harris, all of whom were of a fervently eurosceptic disposition.

However, for much of the following decade, there remained a relatively even three-way split within the Tory delegation between Europhiles, Eurosceptics and those who would veer in whichever direction which suited them at the time.

However, after the 2009 European election, with another injection of new members leaving the Europhiles for the first time in a distinct minority, Callanan emerged as the group Chief Whip and then in November 2010 won a three-way fight for the group leadership, beating Richard Ashworth and Charles Tannock. Significantly, he secured more than 50% of the vote on the first ballot.

His pitch was to pledge to “lend our solid, but not slavish, support to the Conservative led Government in Westminster”, whilst, amongst other things, fighting for a reduction in the EU Budget.

He was a fervent supporter of the moves for the Tories to leave the federalist European Peoples Party group in Brussels and form a new, free-market, Atlanticist pan-European group – something which came to fruition after the 2009 election with the creation of the European Conservatives and Reformists. Indeed, he enjoys a good working relationship with the leader of the ECR, Jan Zahradil, whom he is understood privately to have supported over British MEP, Timothy Kirkhope, for the job.

Born in 1961 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Callanan was educated at the same secondary school in Gateshead as footballer Paul Gascoigne before going on to study Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Newcastle Polytechnic. He caught the political bug early in life and was elected to Tyne and Wear County Council at the age of 22 in 1983, and remained there until its abolition in 1986.

A year later he was elected to Gateshead Council and stood for Parliament for the first time in the nearby safe Labour seat of Houghton and Washington. He remained heavily involved in the voluntary party through the Young Conservatives and sat on several regional and national party committees during the late 1980s.

He worked as a projects manager for Scottish and Newcastle Breweries by day, but his political interests remained key, serving as leader of the (increasingly small) Conservative group on Gateshead Council until 1996 and contesting Gateshead East and then Tynemouth at the 1992 and 1997 general elections respectively. The latter seat had been Conservative held since 1950, but unfavourable boundary changes combined with the Labour landslide prevented Callanan from reaching the green benches at that third attempt.

However, when the Labour Government changing the voting system for the European Parliament elections to regional list PR in advance of the 1999 elections, Callanan secured the nomination from party members in the North East of England to be top of the Conservative list. He was duly elected and has been re-elected at each subsequent election.

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