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16th Jun 2019

EU parliament sees birth of new right-wing group

  • David Cameron (c) at Oxfam meeting - the image-conscious politician risks being labelled a friend of "racists and homophobes" (Photo: net efekt)

A new European Parliament group that is pro-free market and anti-EU integration unveiled its membership list on Monday (22 June), bringing together 55 MEPs from eight EU states.

Calling itself the "European Conservatives and Reformists Group," the new faction lists "free enterprise," the "sovereign integrity of the nation state" and "probity in the EU institutions" among its principles.

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The British Conservative party dominates membership with 26 MEPs, followed by Poland's Law and Justice with 15 deputies and the Czech Republic's ODS party with nine members.

The other five MEPs come from the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Hungary and Latvia.

The roll call is: Peter van Dalen from the Netherlands' Christian Union party; Derk Jan Eppink of Belgium's Lijst Dedecker; Hannu Takkula from Finland's Keskusta party; Lajos Bokros from the Hungarian Democratic Forum and Roberts Zile of the Latvian National Independence Movement.

"Talks are still continuing and we believe that more will be attracted to join our ranks in the near future," the head of the British Conservative delegation, Timothy Kirkhope, said.

The new group narrowly meets the parliament rule of having deputies from at least seven EU states. But it is set to become the fourth largest in terms of MEP numbers, after the centre-right EPP-ED group, the centre-left PES and the liberal ALDE faction.

It will qualify for an EU budget grant of around €3.9 million a year and will be assigned staff of between 65 and 70 EU civil servants, on top of the 55 MEPs and their personal advisors and secretaries.

The group will also get chairmanship of one of the parliament's powerful law-making committees and one sub-committee. But the biggest groups will snap up the top seven or so juiciest portfolios, such as foreign relations, industry or environment, leaving the newcomers with a decent, but second-tier option such as the budgetary control committee.

The birth of the European Conservatives and Reformists is a small piece of EU parliament history, ending 17 years of the British Conservative party's work with the EPP-ED.

The head of the Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, on Monday told Polish daily Rzeczpospolita that talks to form the new group began in 2002, two years before Poland and the Czech Republic joined the EU.

Potential for strife

The group's three main parties are united in their opposition to the Lisbon treaty, which augurs further EU integration. But there is plenty of potential for internal squabbles.

The Polish and Latvian parties have protectionist wings that do not welcome Tory and ODS-style free trade.

The British Conservatives also have a prominent pro-green and civil liberties agenda. Meanwhile, ODS founder Vaclav Klaus denies that human action impacts climate change. And Mr Kaczynski has Roman Catholic views on gay rights.

"I'd be surprised if they survive two years," one EU parliament official said. "A lot depends on the British Conservatives and how embarassed they might be by the antics of the eastern European members."

Analyst Antonio Missiroli from the Brussels-based European Policy Centre said the group could falter if Tory leader David Cameron gets into power in the UK, with EU states forcing him to either embrace Lisbon or take Britain out of the union.

"If the Tories win on a eurosceptic platform, they might get a reality check on Libson," Mr Missiroli said.

"He may have to reconsider this decision and go back to the [EPP-ED] fold. As a government party, he could not play a double game, doing one thing in the Council [EU member states' ministerial meetings] and another thing in parliament."

'Realignment of the right'

London School of Economics professor Simon Hix said the European Conservatives and Reformists could create a strongly pro-free market bloc with EPP-ED and ALDE in the parliament instead of concentrating on Lisbon.

The new bloc would have over 400 out of 736 MEPs, potentially putting the previous parliament alliance of Christian Democrats and Socialists out of business.

"The Tories must be preparing themselves for an onslaught in the British press - that they have joined up with climate change deniers, racists and homophobes. But I don't think this will last very long," he said.

"We are seeing something interesting in the parliament: a realignment of the right. This European Parliament will be much more to the right than before."

EU leaders task Tusk to find commission chief by June

With national leaders and the European Parliament divided over who to put forward for the commission presidency, the EU Council president will now start negotiations with all sides - hoping to come up with an answer by next month.

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