Aligning his party’s four MEPs to the European Liberals could weaken their ability to “deliver policy at a European level,” Brian Crowley, leader in the European Parliament of both the Union for Europe of the Nations (UEN) group and the Irish Fianna Fáil delegation, told EURACTIV in an interview.
Ireland’s governing party, Fianna Fáil, recently announced that it plans to leave the UEN group – with whom many believe it has a long-standing uncomfortable relationship – to apply to join the European Liberals after this year’s elections.
However, joining such a large pan-European party and group would result in Crowley losing the privileges of being group leader, notably removing him from the influential Conference of Presidents.
“I think the UEN has worked well for Ireland and for Fianna Fáil, we’ve been able to deliver policy at a European level, partly because I’m the leader,” he said, questioning whether cooperation with the Liberals would deliver similar results.
The UEN president argued that “there’s a lot of differences between what the ALDE group stands for here in the parliament and what we’d like to see happening: even though there are some areas where we agree, there’s a lot of divergences too”.
Crowley, a poll-topping MEP of 14 years, does not believe anything is set in stone. With regard to the UEN-ALDE merger, he said “nothing is decided yet,” adding that he does not believe the British Conservatives will, as is widely expected, leave the EPP-ED, perhaps to use the UEN as their new platform (EURACTIV 12/01/09). “I’ve been here [in the Parliament] for 14 years, and for 14 years the Tories have been leaving the EPP-ED.”
As for the make-up of the new Parliament, he does not foresee any dramatic changes, and thinks the EPP-ED will still be the biggest group, even if the Conservatives leave, with the Socialists the second group.
Like most of his colleagues, Crowley believes the economic crisis will dominate campaigning before June’s European elections. However, he does not believe the Parliament has gone far enough in showing citizens the European dimension to these problems, claiming that “the Parliament has missed an opportunity to be seen as the leader of this debate”.
On the subject of the controversial Lisbon Treaty, the UEN leader, a well-known pro-Lisbon voice, believes that the Irish people are now “overwhelmingly in favour,” and will ratify the treaty in this year’s second referendum. In fact, Crowley is in favour of holding the new vote as early as possible: “Personally, I’d love to hold it tomorrow. I think the sooner we do it, the better.”