The European Conservatives and Reformists Group last night (25 May) claimed they could act as kingmakers in the appointment of the next Commission President, as their Tory Chairman lost his seat in the Parliament elections.
Martin Callanan was beaten to the third seat for the North East region of the UK by Paul Brannen, Labour’s second candidate. Jude Kirton-Daring, of Labour, and Jonathan Arnott, of UKIP won the other two seats.
The ECR were predicted to have 45 seats, 12 fewer than they currently have, in the next Parliament this morning. The European People’s Party topped the poll with 212 seats, with the Socialists next with 187. ALDE (72) and the Greens-European Free Alliance (55) were ahead of the ECR at time of this article’s writing.
Despite this, and to a backdrop of large gains by right-wing Eurosceptic parties such as UKIP (here) and France’s Front National (here), ECR MEP Struan Stevenson was bullish about the group’s future influence on European politics
He reiterated the group’s opposition to the appointment of the EPP’s “Spitzenkandidat” Jean-Claude Juncker, calling instead for a Commission President with a “reformist attitude.”
The Lisbon Treaty requires the Council of Ministers to take the election results into account when appointing the next Commission President. The ECR did not put forward a candidate because it did not believe it was a “legitimate election,” Stevenson stated.
He said, “We will not only stay relevant we might find ourselves in the position of kingmaker or even queenmaker in the next European Parliament.
“We’re going to see a hung parliament if you look at these results and we are going to be in a crucial position. People will be coming to us to ask for our support in producing the next President of the European Commission and the European Parliament.”
With much horse-trading still to go before the final Parliament is decided, the ECR could yet wield a disproportionate influence to their size. Their track record on legislation, especially regarding financial services, shows they have been able to do that in the past.
Stevenson said, “Hundreds of thousands of people, millions of people have demanded reform. That has been our core platform since we founded this party five years ago.
“I wish all those people who were demanding reform were voting for parties in our group. But I can tell you we are going to see big changes in the next Parliament. We cannot ignore the voice of so many European citizens.”
New ECR Chairman
Stevenson took the podium at the European Parliament because his Chairman, Martin Callanan, was in his constituency fighting a losing battle to be re-elected (see earlier story here).
Callanan was forced to rely on UKIP poaching enough votes from Labour to save his seat. In the end, Labour took both seats in an area that has been one of its traditional strongholds.
The ECR will elect his replacement at the beginning of the next Parliament. Sources said they expected any replacement to be drawn from the ranks of the UK Conservatives, the group’s dominant party.
Callanan, a Eurosceptic, was first elected in 1999 and re-elected in 2004 and 2009. In December 2011, he became Chairman of the ECR group.
ECR sources indicated last night they expected several parties to join the group after the election.The ECR would not comment on any potential new members for its parliamentary group. Any EPP defectors are likely to come from southern Europe, where resentment towards Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is strong.
Meanwhile, Bart De Wever’s New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) was set for electoral triumph in Belgium. Belgian voters are expected to hand the NVA victory at regional and federal level.
But even a landslide would only translate into four seats in the European Parliament, forcing the N-VA to forge new alliances.
Currently they are a member of the European Free Alliance, a group joined with the Greens. But relations between the N-VA and the Belgian Greens have soured, and the NVA is widely expected to join the ECR (here).