Conservatives mull radical shake-up of European Parliament groups

“The ECR is already in talks with Janša,” the source said. [EPA-EFE/Szilard Koszticsak]

The departure of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party from the EU’s biggest political family has opened Pandora’s box in the European Parliament and whetted conservatives’ appetite to reshape the political scene.

A source at the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the European Parliament told EURACTIV the group’s plan is to initially open its doors to Fidesz, which quit the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) last week.

The next step is to bring on board the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), which is also an EPP member but its leader, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša, is ideologically closer to Orbán.

“The ECR is already in talks with Janša,” the source said.

EURACTIV Croatia contacted Janša’s office but had yet to receive a response by the time of publication.

The third party reportedly in talks to join the ECR is the Italian Lega, which is now affiliated with Marine Le Pen’s far-right Identity and Democracy Party in the European Parliament.

“The condition for Lega to join is to kick out the Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia) led by Giorgia Meloni,” the source said. Orbán has recently written to the Brothers of Italy to express his support and praise their shared “Christian and conservative values”.

But Meloni’s recent demand to lift EU sanctions against Russia seems to have irritated the group’s main political force, Poland’s PiS.

“Not even Orbán has gone so far,” the source said, adding that Meloni seems to be standing in the way of the ECR group’s “growth and aimed political realignment closer to the centre right”.

Currently a member of the ECR, Brothers of Italy, which has seven MEPs, is the only opposition party to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government.

Meloni is also the chair of the European conservative party while MEP Raffaele Fitto is one of the two co-chairs of the ECR group in the European Parliament.

Lega, by contrast, boasts 27 MEPs and is part of the current coalition government in Italy holding three ministerial positions and nine of 39 undersecretaries (junior ministers).

“The ECR is ready to offer Fidesz and Lega the chairmanship of the party and the group in the EU Parliament,” the source added.

If the SDS and Lega indeed join the ECR, it will have a spill-over effect on both the EPP and Europe’s far-right.

“The EPP will lose another prime minister while Marine Le Pen will be left alone in her far-right family,” the source added.

Salvini: joining EPP is off the table

However, in a live chat on his Facebook account on Tuesday, Lega’s leader, Matteo Salvini, denied that  joining the EPP group was on the party’s agenda.

“We’re working to create a new group: incisive, rooted, inclusive,” Salvini said, adding that he was “in contact with the Poles, the Hungarians and others.”

According to him, “something new is needed, we are working to create something new, because a certain type of Europe, with an outdated mindset, is unable to respond to emergencies, to the needs of 2021.”

Salvini already tried to build bridges with PiS and Fidesz before the EU elections.

But there’s another faction in the party, led by Minister of Economic development Giancarlo Giorgetti, who wants Lega to succeed Forza Italia in the EPP.

Critics suggest that by creating a new group and shutting the EPP’s door, Salvini could curb the rise of Giorgetti and his fellows in Lega.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Josie Le Blond]

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