The Irish-born Libertas movement, which was instrumental in obtaining a ‘no’ vote in the June 2008 Lisbon Treaty referendum in Ireland, acquired pan-European party status yesterday (2 February), opening the door for the party to receive EU funding.
Just five months ahead of the European elections, Libertas, the organisation launched by Irish businessman Declan Ganley, joined the ranks of ten other registered pan-European political groups that are eligible to receive funding from the European Parliament.
As required by EU criteria, elected representatives from seven different EU countries registered as members of the new European political party, allowing the group to obtain recognition as being genuinely pan-European.
The members of the new European party are: British MP Lord Alton of Liverpool, French MEPs Philippe de Villiers and Paul Marie Couteaux, Greek MEP Georgios Georgiou, Finnish MP Timo Soini, Estonian MP Igor Grazin, Bulgarian MP Mincho Hristov and Cyprian Gutkovski, a Polish member of a regional assembly.
Registered pan-European parties such as Libertas receive a 100,000 euro subsidy, plus extra cash according to the number of participating MEPs. But it appears instead to be political stature that is important for Ganley and former Danish MEP Jens-Peter Bonde, one the main architects of the ‘upgrading’ of Libertas.
MEPs from mainstream parties downplayed the development. They even saw advantages of the move, in that Libertas would now be less able to stay in the shadows as it had done so far.
UK Liberal Democrat MEP Andrew Duff (ALDE), who is ALDE's constitutional affairs spokesperson, observed that the Eurosceptic ranks had become more crowded following the emergence of Libertas as a player in the European elections.
"The emergence of Libertas makes the anti-European terrain even more congested than it already is. I hope they don't all choke each other to death," said Duff.
The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) is resigned to the prospect of Declan Ganley's Libertas movement will receive a share of EU taxpayers' money to fight the European elections following the decision by the European Parliament to allocate the new party €200,000, a press release reads.
"We live in a pan-European democracy," said Graham Watson MEP, ALDE group leader. "All creeds and colours should be tolerated as long as they comply with the rules laid down on party funding [...] The market for Eurosceptic voices is becoming increasingly competitive, but the presence of Libertas may well raise public interest in the European elections and force pro-Europeans to be bolder and better organised in their presentation and defence of the EU and its latest treaty reform," Watson further states.
Marian Harkin MEP (Ireland, Independent), saw nothing 'scandalous' about Libertas's accession to the pan-European scene. "If they meet the criteria then they, like any other political party, should be able to access funding according to the rules," said Harkin.
The new European political force, which opposes ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and further EU integration in general, was set up last November after a visit to Ireland by Eurosceptic Czech President Václav Klaus. There, Klaus met with Declan Ganley, a businessman who was one of the main sponsors of the 'no' campaign in Ireland, and around eighty eurosceptic politicians from different countries (EURACTIV 12/11/08).
The Libertas movement stirred controversy last year over allegations that it received illegal funding from US agencies. Political group leaders in the European Parliament have asked for "comprehensive information" about the allegations (EURACTIV 26/09/08).
- RTE news, Ireland:Libertas to be recognized as political party
- Irish Examiner:Libertas set to emerge as political party as candidates unveiled
- Irish Times:Libertas to set up Poland branch
- Polish Radio:A branch of Libertas party opened in Warsaw
- EURACTIV.pl:Pieni?dze z bud?etu UE dla eurosceptyków
- Blogactiv:Ireland: time for the second referendum