Tories call for ‘anti-Socialist alliance’ in Parliament

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Led by the British Conservatives, the new European Conservatives and Reformists group (ECR) in the European Parliament have called on all centre-right political families to exclude the Socialists from decision-making in the European assembly.

Speaking last week (10 July) to the Association of British Insurers in London, Timothy Kirkhope MEP, interim chairman of the new group (EURACTIV 02/06/09), said he hoped the vote on the re-appointment of José Manuel Barroso as European Commission president would help forge such an alliance. 

“The [centre-right] EPP [European People’s Party], the European Conservatives and Reformists, and the more liberal-minded members from the Liberal Group could enable us to put Barroso back in the Commission without giving an inch to the Socialists,” Kirkhope said. 

“But such a scenario would not be possible without our votes. Mr Barroso knows it. The EPP knows it. The Liberals know it. And the Socialists know it,” added the Tory MEP. 

The newly-elected European Parliament meets for the first time this week in Strasbourg for its constitutive opening plenary session following the June European elections. 

It remains to be seen however if the Tory’s call will be heard. Indeed, the British Conservative position runs counter to moves by Guy Verhofstadt, the new leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, (ALDE) who wants to build a “pro-European coalition” in the European Parliament. 

Earlier in July, Verhofstadt specifically called for the new “anti-federalist” group to be excluded from decision-making in the new assembly (EURACTIV 02/07/09). 

But Kirkhope rejected Verhofstadt’s call and tried to appeal to the more economically liberal MEPs in the ALDE group. “ALDE’s new leader Verhofstadt has brought Belgian politics to the European Parliament: something that should reassure nobody!” said Kirkhope. 

The Tory MEP stressed that the new group wants good relations with the mainstream centre-right EPP group and hoped that the two would vote in a similar way on many issues. 

“When we left the EPP, we made it crystal clear to them that we want to maintain an excellent relationship. We hope this will be reciprocated by the EPP, who recognise the need for our groups to work together on issues where we can,” Kirkhope said. 

The EPP and the Socialists had dominated in the last parliament, Kirkhope said, and a compromise was usually needed between those two groups and for passing legislation. 

But the Tory MEP said that this “monopoly” had been broken following the European elections as the Socialist group was reduced in size, despite remaining the EU assembly’s second-largest. 

“We are presented with an unprecedented opportunity for a coalition of the centre-right: the EPP, ECR, and the Liberal wing – if not all – of ALDE,” Kirkhope said. 

José Manuel Barroso won unanimous backing from EU heads of state and government at their 18-19 June summit for a second five-year mandate at the head of the European Commission (EURACTIV 19/06/09). However, EU leaders did not formalise his nomination, awaiting further negotiations with EU parliamentary group leaders. 

The newly-elected European Parliament meets for its first session on 14 July and will elect its president on the same day. The European People's Party, Barroso's political family, has been pushing for a vote in support of the Portuguese in plenary on 15 July. 

However, after consultations mediated by the Swedish EU Presidency had taken place, it emerged that the EU assembly will not hold a vote on Barroso's re-appointment at its July plenary (EURACTIV 02/07/09). This was largely due to the position adopted by Guy Verhofstadt, the new leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). 

The former Belgian prime minister, who was elected unopposed as ALDE leader on 30 June, said he and his group would "not accept timetables imposed on Parliament". Earlier, the Green group had announced that they would oppose a July vote on Barroso, joining calls made on 18 June by the Socialists. 

On 9 July, EU heads of state and government adopted by written procedure a decision to officially back Barroso (EURACTIV 09/07/09). 

The parties, from across the EU, which now comprise the core of the European Conservatives and Reformist Group are: 

  • Czech Republic: Civic Democratic Party (ODS), with nine MEPs; 
  • Poland: Law & Justice (PiS) with 15 MEPs; 
  • United Kingdom: The Conservative Party, with 26 MEPs in the new group; 
  • Belgium: Lijst Dedecker (LDD), with one MEP in the new group; 
  • Finland: The Centre Party (Keskusta) sits in the Liberal (ALDE) group, but one of its MEPs is now joining the new group; 
  • Hungary: Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) with one MEP; 
  • Latvia: Latvian National Independence Movement (TB/LNNK) with one MEP, and; 
  • The Netherlands: ChristianUnion (ChristenUnie) with one MEP. 

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