Monday

30th Jan 2023

European federalists try to regroup

As the European Parliament slowly begins to wind down its activity ahead of the European elections in June, frantic dealing is going on behind the scenes to plot the political landscape for the next five-year term.

What could emerge is a new centrist federalist party which would fundamentally alter the balance and shape of politics in the European Parliament.

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The likelihood of such a group being set up grew last week after a meeting on 3 March between European Commission President Romano Prodi (who will return to domestic politics later this year), the leader of the liberals Graham Watson and François Bayrou, head of the Union for French Democracy.

A spokesperson for the liberals told the EUobserver that Mr Watson is aiming to "strengthen the centre forces in the European Parliament".

This would mean "going beyond the strictly liberal political parties" and forming an alliance with those MEPs who are federalists but are dissatisfied with the biggest groups – particularly the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP).

On Wednesday (3 March), Mr Bayrou spoke of the birth of a new European political force whose programme would consist in rebuilding "political and democratic Union in Europe".

Informal meetings to discuss the new group are to continue up to the June elections.

A sea change

Were they to succeed in getting such a group off the ground, the nature of politics in the European Parliament would be greatly altered.

And the European People's Party (EPP), currently the biggest group in the Parliament - is very aware of the new danger this new grouping could pose - especially as several of its own MEPs are disgruntled by a recent deal with the eurosceptic British Conservatives and are considering defecting.

The President of the European People’s Party Wilfried Martens issued a rallying statement last week saying "This is an uncompromisingly pro-European party".

"We continue to make the ultimate difference in the Union because of what we believe, and because we have been able to translate our Christian-inspired values into a political programme for Europe over almost three decades".

Casting the net too wide

However, a source close to the EPP told this news-site that leading members of the centre-right party are worried by the deal that group leader Hans-Gert Pöttering struck with the leader of the British Conservatives Michael Howard.

The deal, which allows the Tories to pursue their own eurosceptic agenda while having access to EPP staff and funding, is "too generous" and "was handled badly".

Among the rank and file, it is also being interpreted as a cynical move to, at any price, make sure that the EPP remains the biggest group in the European Parliament after the elections.

There is further unease as it allows centre-right parties from the ten new member states to choose whether they want to join the EPP or the ED (where the Tories sit).

Eurosceptic parties from Poland and the Czech Republic are already in talks with the Tories about possibly joining forces.

The issue will come to a head on 31 March when there will be an EPP vote on the concessions given to the Tories – the vote itself has already been postponed twice following signs of rebellion in the EPP ranks.

Meanwhile, the liberals are keen to capitalise on this unease and are stressing that the new centrist pro-European party would be about "content" and not about expanding for the sake of it.

By their own estimates, they hope to return 80 to 100 seats with ‘defectors’ from other groups.

Of the three biggest parties in the European Parliament, the EPP-ED have 232 seats, the Socialists have 174 and the Liberals have 53.

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