Why has David Cameron, an ostensible moderniser at home, aligned himself with a ragbag of far-right parties abroad? Both Denis MacShane and Timothy Garton Ash express incredulity at Cameron's decision today but neither comes close to understanding the Tory leader's motives.
It is worth remembering that Cameron first promised to form a new Eurosceptic alliance for entirely domestic reasons during the Tory leadership election. The decision to leave the mainstream European People's Party was a sop to the Jurassic wing of the Conservative Party and, as my colleague James Macintyre writes this week, a thinly veiled attempt to outflank his right-wing leadership rival Liam Fox.
MacShane suggests that Cameron could have reneged on his promise, as he has done with others, but this underestimates the fanatical hold Euroscepticism has on today's Conservative Party. As a political force, Conservatism has often defined itself by its opponents. The party's bêtes noires in the Eighties included the Soviet Union, Arthur Scargill, the IRA and European federalism. Of these foes, federalism is the only one left standing and the party's obsession with the issue has risen accordingly.
The ascension of the sinister Polish MEP Michal Kaminski to the leadership of the new group reflects the revival of the belief that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". Just as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were prepared to support General Pinochet and the Contras as bulwarks against communism, so Conservatives today are willing to unite with the far right in opposition to the present EU. Appropriately enough, during the period when Pinochet was detained in Britain, Kaminski rushed to the country to pay personal tribute to the fallen tyrant.
As Garton Ash writes:
In 1999, he visited Britain to present what is described as a gorget embossed with an image of the Virgin Mary to General Augusto Pinochet. "This was the most important meeting of my whole life. Gen Pinochet was clearly moved and extremely happy with our visit," Kaminski told the BBC's Polish service.
The final motive for the new Eurosceptic alliance is that the Conservatives know and relish the fact they can get away it. As a political issue, Europe has never detained either the electorate or the media for long. The challenge for pro-Europeans is to change this. And soon.