New pan-European Eurosceptic alliance takes shape
Just days ahead of the EU elections, Conservatives and Eurosceptics in the UK, the Czech Republic and Poland formed a new political alliance over the weekend. They vowed to fight against what they see as the growing federalisation of the European Union.
A new anti-federalist group, made up of David Cameron's British Conservatives, the Czech Civic Democratic Party (ODS) led by former Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and the Law and Justice Party (PiS) of former Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczyński, was constituted on 30 May in Warsaw.
The new political group is expected to undermine the mainstream centre-right European People's Party (EPP), which is widely expected to win the European elections, scheduled for 4-7 June, according to polls (see Background).
Up to 60 MEPs from the EPP-ED group could join the new formation in the next European Parliament, which will emerge from the elections.
However, the EPP is still expected to remain the be the biggest political group in the Parliament, a Burson-Marsteller analysis shows. Jean-Michel de Waele, professor of political science at the Free University of Brussels, told EurActiv that in spite of the EPP losing members, PES had little chance of becoming the first political group.
The decision by Conservative leader David Cameron to establish the new group was criticised by the mainstream British press. Cameron leads opinion polls in Britain, where he is widely seen as the future prime minister, but he was blamed for fraternising with the PiS, which is seen as ultra-conservative and homophobic.
The party's leader Jaroslaw Kaczyński, who still lives at home with his mother and for many years refused to get a bank account, has gained himself a reputation for sowing discord and for pushing Poland away from modernity.
In the meantime, ODS leader and former Czech prime minister Mirek Topolánek's name was involved in another scandal. In the Czech press, Topolánek appears nude, in female company, in photos taken at the villa of Italian Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in Sardinia. As Berlusconi himself is in the centre of a 'Lewinsky-like' scandal (EurActiv 26/05/09), his lawyers prohibited publication of the photos by the Italian press on the grounds of preserving a foreign official's privacy.
From 4-7 June, 375 million citizens will be called upon to vote for the 736 members who will represent them in the European Parliament until 2014.
A recent poll, commissioned by public affairs firm Burson Marsteller (EurActiv 08/04/09), predicted that the centre-right EPP-ED group would remain the largest grouping in the next legislature, with approximately 249 seats, while the Socialist group would win roughly 209 seats, slightly raising its share from 27% to 28% in the new assembly.
However, the poll foresaw that the new parliamentary set-up could be defined by the decision of the British Tories to leave the EPP and create a new European Conservative group with the Czech Conservative ODS and other right-leaning parties.
The left-of-centre Guardian newspaper called Tory leader David Cameron's move "tragic" and "unwise".
Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, a former head of the Foreign Office who was Britain's ambassador to the EU at the time of the Maastricht Treaty negotiations in 1991, was quoted as saying:
"I do not understand a rigid commitment to impotence […] I do not understand why [the Czech and Polish parties who will form a new group with the Tories] are preferable to [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel or [French President] Nicolas Sarkozy, or why they think the route to influence lies that way."
Caroline Jackson, the Europhile Conservative MEP for South West England who is standing down at the election, was quoted by the Independent as saying that Cameron would "bitterly regret" the decision to withdraw from the EPP.
Martin Bursik, leader of the Czech Green party, a former junior coalition member with the ODS, deplored the decision to set up the new political group.
"I am very surprised and upset by this declaration […] ODS is turning back toward its fundamentalist and Eurosceptic roots. This party presents itself as pro-European, but the statements of its leaders and especially the choice of its political partners rather suggest that this is a party which seeks to isolate itself in Europe," Bursik is quoted as saying by Radio Prague.
Chris Patten, a former EU commissioner who also served as governor of Hong Kong, was also critical of the move: "It is an unwise decision and will reduce the Conservatives' influence in the European Parliament," the Guardian quotes him as saying.