The British Conservatives have finally left the European People’s Party (EPP), the Christian-Democrat group in the European Parliament. The intention to leave the EPP was first announced at the “Congress of Brussels,” a two-day conference, organized by Daniel Hannan, a British MEP (Member of the European Parliament), in Brussels in December 2005. The 2005 conference was attended by politicians from the British Conservatives, the Czech Republic’s Civic Democratic Party (ODS) of President Vaclav Klaus, Poland’s Law and Justice Party (PiS) of President Lech Kaczyński, and others, such as Alexandra Colen, a member of the Belgian federal parliament for the Flemish-secessionist Vlaams Belang party. The second day of the conference coincided with the election in London of David Cameron as the party leader of the British Conservatives. Before his election as party leader, Mr. Cameron had promised Mr. Hannan to pull his party out of the EPP within weeks of his election as party leader. It took him three and a half years to do so. Yesterday, the British Conservatives, the Czech ODS, the Polish PiS, and a couple of tiny parties from five other EU member states, announced the formation of a new group with a somewhat contradictory name, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).
The ODS would have preferred to admit parties such as the Italian Lega Nord and the Danish People’s Party to the ECR group, but this was vetoed by Mr. Cameron’s party, which stated that it did not want to team up with “racists and extremists.” One of the things held against the Lega Nord was that Mario Borghezio, one of its MEPs, was arrested on September 11, 2007, at a Brussels rally to commemorate the 9/11 terror attacks in America in 2001. The rally, where several Vlaams Belang politicians were also molested and arrested, had been banned by the Socialist mayor of Brussels at the demand of Muslim organizations.
The Danish People’s Party, too, is regarded as “racist and extremist” by the British Conservatives, though the DPP cannot be called either racist or extremist unless one considers its opposition to the admission of Turkey to the EU and its demand that Muslim immigrants to Denmark assimilate and accept Danish freedoms, such as the right of cartoonists to caricature whomever they like, as racist or extremist.
Another party vetoed by Mr. Cameron’s party was the Reformed Political Party (SGP) from the Netherlands. The SGP is a small Calvinist party with only one MEP, which causes controversy because it refuses to put forward women candidates for election. The female voters of the SGP do not seem to mind, but Dutch feminists have taken the SGP to court for violating the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. For many years, the SGP formed one party in the European Parliament with the ChristenUnie, another Dutch Calvinist party. The CU was allowed to join the ECR group, but the SGP was asked by the British Conservatives to change its position on women in politics, which it refused to do, and was subsequently barred. As a result the CU-SGP alliance fell apart.
Other parties which the Conservatives allowed into their group are the Belgian Lijst Dedecker, the party of the maverick Flemish politician Jean-Marie Dedecker, who calls “Zionism as bad as Islamism,” the Finnish Centre Party, the Hungarian Democratic Forum, the Latvian Fatherland and Freedom Party and the Ulster Unionist Party. It is generally expected that the French aristocrat Philippe de Villiers, the only politician who managed to get elected on the list of the pan-European Libertas party, will also ask to join the ECR group, though Mr. de Villiers is opposed to granting Turkey EU membership.
With currently 55 MEPs (26 British, 15 Poles and 9 Czechs) from 8 countries, the ECR is the fourth largest group in the European Parliament, after those of the Christian-Democrats, Socialists and Liberals. While the three big groups are “Europhile,” meaning that they promote European federalism aimed at creating a genuine European state to replace the existing European nations, the ECR says it stands for “Euro-realism” or, as the ECR charter says, “the sovereign integrity of the nation state, opposition to EU federalism and a renewed respect for true subsidiarity.” The group can already prove to be a powerful player in the upcoming debate about whether José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, may prolong his presidency for another five years. Mr. Barroso is backed by the Christian-Democrats and the Liberals, but needs the support of the ECR if he wants to be reappointed.
It is important for MEPs to belong to a formally recognized group. MEPs who do not belong to such a group get less speaking time, may not table amendments in the plenary session, have fewer staff and less financial subsidies. The bigger the group, the bigger the perks and the more extra funding a group receives.
For a group to be formally recognized in the European Parliament, it must consist of a minimum of 25 MEPs from at least 7 of the 27 EU member states. The parties which have been barred from joining the ECR group are currently negotiating with the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) about forming their own group. UKIP, which became the second largest party in Britain in the European elections earlier this month, after the Conservatives, advocates the withdrawal of Britain from the European Union. It is “Eurosceptic,” rather than “Euro-realist.” Lega Nord, the Danish People’s Party and Vlaams Belang also tend to be Eurosceptic rather than Euro-realist because they believe the EU cannot be reformed and is a danger to the democratic nation-states in Europe.
UKIP has 13 MEPs, the Lega Nord 9, the Danish People’s Party 2, the Vlaams Belang 2, the Greek Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) 2, the Austrian Freedom Party 2, the True Finns party from Finland 1 – which makes 31 MEPs from 7 countries. Such a group could become a strong voice in the fight to dismantle the EU, oppose the Islamization of Europe and, given that the Danish People’s Party and the Vlaams Belang are outspoken supporters of Israel, support for the Jewish state. If Geert Wilders, the leader of the Dutch Freedom Party (4 MEPs) should reconsider his principle not to join any group, he could even play a prominent role in such a constellation. The Italian neo-fascists will not join this group. They have been admitted to... the Christian-Democrat EPP.