Liberals rule out right-wing alliance in the European Parliament
By Honor Mahony
The Liberals have ruled out a right-wing alliance in the European Parliament which could have fundamentally shaken up the way the EU assembly does its business, but instead says it is happy to continue with a 'grand coalition' of left and right.
Fresh from the election of its new leader, ex-Belgian prime minister Guy Verhodstadt, the group says it will not be jumping into bed with eurosceptics.
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Mr Verhofstadt said the Liberal group is looking to be part of a "broad coalition" but that this would only be possible "with those who are committed to the European agenda."
The past few weeks have been rife with speculation that a right-wing deal, including the centre-right EPP, the newly formed European Conservatives and Reformists group (run by the eurosceptic British Conservatives) and ALDE, could run the parliament for the next five years.
However, Mr Verhofstadt said "Europe requires stability" and indicated that a grand coalition could provide this.
The Barroso question
The group, which with 84 MEPs is the third largest in the parliament after the EPP and the Socialists, is also continuing to play poker on the question of whether Jose Manuel Barroso's bid to become European Commission president for a second time should be put to a vote in parliament in two weeks' time.
Speaking about the importance of the "credibility" of the parliament, Mr Verhofstadt said the Liberals will not take a position until Mr Barroso is legally nominated by member states as a candidate - so far he has the political backing of EU leaders.
The Liberals will then make certain demands of the would-be president's programme - such as a strengthened EU approach to tackling the economic crisis - and is calling on Mr Barroso to publish a policy programme for the next five years.
In 2004, Mr Barroso was accused of being all things to all political groups by adjusting his programme according to his audience.
The parliament's political leaders are due to take a decision on whether to put the Barroso candidacy to vote in July. According to Mr Verhofstadt, this "cannot be even on the agenda" if Mr Barroso is not a formal candidate.
The Liberal position appears to fall between that of the two large groups. The centre-right EPP wants a vote in July while the Socialists are against it.
The Liberals, meanwhile, are likely to be persuaded to go for a July vote if they get awarded chairmanship of a key committee in the parliament or a liberal gets an important portfolio in the commission.
One Liberal official indicated that the group was left somewhat dazed by its new leader following a three hour meeting to discuss the Barroso issue earlier on Wednesday (1 July).
Although many deputies spoke out in favour of a July vote, Mr Verhofstadt later said there was unanimous feeling that they should not have a timetable imposed on them.
Graham Watson, former leader of the group and now hoping to become parliament president, also appears to have only nominal support from the Belgian who would rather have a key committee than a liberal at the head of the EU assembly.
"You notice that he has come from managing Belgian politics," remarked an official, referring to Mr Verhofstadt's time as prime minister in the politically fractured state.