Liberals embarrassed as N-VA joins ECR, making it third largest Parliament group

ALDE President Guy Verhofstadt said the N-VA's vote was "not good for the EU". 2010. [European Parliament/Pietro Naj-Oleari/Flickr]

The European Liberals last night (18 June) suffered an embarrassing setback after the N-VA, Belgium's Flemish Separatist Party, voted to join the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the European Parliament.

ALDE had opened the door for Belgium’s largest party to join them, despite the N-VA’s domestic rivalry with liberals in the group, by approving their membership before yesterday’s vote.

As things stand at the time of this article's writing, the N-VA’s rejection of ALDE means the Eurosceptic and UK Conservative-led ECR, is now the third largest European Parliament group (more here). The N-VA’s four MEPs give the ECR 68 members, overtaking ALDE’s 67 parliamentarians.

>> Read: Cameron's group challenges liberals as kingmakers in new Parliament

An N-VA  party spokesman told Belgian media that more than 70 members voted to join the ECR, and more than 40 for the European Free Alliance, the N-VA’s former group.  Just three members voted for ALDE, he said.

Historically, the Liberals have held the “kingmaker” spot in the Parliament and on Tuesday night declared they were the third biggest parliamentary faction.

While negotiations are ongoing, the four seats represent a considerable coup at this stage in the group-forming process because the number of unattached MEPs is dwindling. There are also rumours of growing tension between Spanish nationalists and regionalists within ALDE, which could led to departures from the group. 

Verhofstadt: 'Not good' for the EU that N-VA joins 'Eurosceptic' ECR

ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt said, “We are reaching out to everybody who would like to help to reform and make the EU stronger […] that is why our group removed the obstacles to potentially allow the N-VA to join us.

“It’s obviously not good for the European Union that the biggest party in Belgium has chosen to join a very Eurosceptic, maybe even an anti-EU group,  where there are several  extreme right parties like The Finns party and the Danish People’s Party, as well as Alternative für Deutschland, who would like to leave the euro.”

ECR sources said they were pleased with the result. A vote on the N-VA's membership by the ECR is to be held on Tuesday and is expected to go through without any problems.

A source said, "We share a eurorealist agenda with the N-VA and look forward to working with them as we build an EU that looks to the future." 

N-VA European party leader Johan Van Overtveldt said, “We have chosen the group where we get the greatest possible autonomy to freely determine our views and voting.

“We have negotiated with various groups and none are 100% in line with our thinking. But […] without a group you can not provide constructive political work in the European Parliament."

Domestically, N-VA leader Bart de Wever is in negotiations to form a coalition government after his party’s victory in Belgium’s general election, which was held at the same time as the European elections. He is due to report on his progress to the King next week.

Nigel Farage’s Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group also announced last night it had the support it needed to form.

>> Read: Le Pen candidate joins Farage's new EFD group

  • 24 June: Deadline for European Parliament groups to form.


Peter B's picture

This decision is both shocking and extremely hypocritical, it also deprives the NV-A of any credibility it claims to have as more than just a petty regionalist party, but at least we now know where the party stands.

Shocking because the reasons for Flanders' prosperity (if you count Brussels within the economic data of Flanders and the N-VA certainly does when they say that Flanders is responsible for 87% of Belgium's export) is the wealth generated by Brussels as a result of it being the capital of the European Union. Brussels is the third richest region in Europe (after Luxembourg and central London) and responsible for more than a third of Belgium's GDP. Moreover,the reason why so many multinationals have installed themselves in or near the Capital of Flanders (aka Brussels) is because of the EU, not Belgium's wonderful business climate (sarcasm intended).

It is also gravely hypocritical because the sole reason why movements supporting regional independence and autonomy have garned so much support over the past 20 years (think of Scotland and Catalonia) is because in more and more areas, due to the European Union, "Brussels" rather than London or Madrid is the regulating entity when it comes to transnational issues and Edinburgh and Barcelona when it comes to regional ones. In other words, without the EU all this talk of Flemish separtism would be unthinkable.

Peter V's picture

Brussels the economic engine of Flanders/Belgium? Antwerp (and the 26 communities within the Antwerp arrondissement) generates 42% of the export in Flanders and more than 1/3 of the Belgian export (only the Antwerp diamond trade represents already 10%).

Brussels added value is poor as the city only attracts politicians, lobbyists and Eurocrats. Their economic input is only beneficial for the micro trade within the city itself, the impact on Flanders and Belgium is rather low. In addition all Eurocrats don't have to pay taxes to the Belgian nation.

The idea, launched last Thursday by the N-VA Antwerp, to make Antwerp the Capital of Flanders is a justification of an historic mistake, made by a limited group of politicians that opted for Brussels. Antwerp is already the economic, social and cultural capital of Flanders, making it also the political capital is a democratic result of the last elections and will generate, different from the current situation with Brussels as capital, an added economic impulse for Antwerp and Flanders.

BenC42's picture

What is really embarrassing for Liberals, is that Guy Verhofstadt invested so much energy in flirting with the N-VA, which is a Conservative Eurosceptic party that has much more in common with the UK Conservatives than it does with most of the MEPs in ALDE.

Verhofstadt did this for one reason only: because he wanted ALDE to remain the 3rd largest group in the Parliament. Now he has failed, but at least he doesn't have the headache of trying to work for the next 5 years with 4 MEPs who do not share the same values that the ALDE leader and the rest of his group claim to believe in.

Eurochild's picture

Time for the Liberals to dump Verhofstadt. He is too much of a polarising figure and a fresh approach is needed.

Also, I hate over-dramatic statements of the type “It’s obviously not good for the European Union that the biggest party in Belgium has chosen...". Why is it not good for the European Union that one party has made a particular decision? Is the EU about to go through difficult times simply because barely a handful of MEPs joined one European parliament group and not another?