In a move that has surprised many, British Conservative MEPs, who form the backbone of the Eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the European Parliament, voted on June 4 to welcome the Danish People’s Party and the True Finns into their bloc.
It came as a surprise to observers for two main reasons: firstly, these two parties were until recently key allies of Nigel Farage’s UKIP in the Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group in the European Parliament. And secondly, both parties are also noticeably further to the right-wing than the Tories on various issues, from immigration to same-sex marriage.
With these newcomers and a total of 55 seats, the ECR is now the fourth biggest group of the European Parliament, according to the Financial Times.
However, it wasn’t as much of a surprise for the shunned EFD: “regarding the Finns Party and the DPP, we knew this move was coming for some time,” an EFD spokesman told euronews by e-mail.
The EFD spokesman implied that the choice of the two Scandinavian parties was that of their leadership and not the party’s rank-and-file. “I am sure that the Finn Party and DPP members are unhappy that they are now in a political family (AECR) which contains the Islamic AK Party of Turkey. Shall we now see these leaders publicly explain that to their people?”
The “EFD Group [is] now very close to having the delegations for a group. We are confident the total number of members will be between 50 and 55,” added the spokesman. “It is now just a matter of getting firm verbal commitments as written signatures.”
However, no specifics were given about where these 50 to 55 MEPS would come from. Nigel Farage, who met Beppe Grillo on May 28, hopes to see the Italian’s 5-Star-Movement and its 17 MEPs join the EFD group in the European Parliament. Farage also rejected the idea of collaborating with France’s Marine Le Pen and her right-wing allies.
A total of at least 25 MEPs from at least 7 different Member States is needed to create a political group in the European Parliament.
David Cameron criticised for the move
In the United Kingdom, the news of the alliance with the DPP and the True Finns has drawn criticism against David Cameron, who remains the leader of the British Conservatives while Prime Minister.
The Financial Times covered the story with an article entitled “MEPs with criminal records join Tories’ eurosceptic group.” In the Guardian, Gareth Thomas, the shadow Europe minister, is quoted as saying “David Cameron must now be open with the British public about the dubious views of his new partners in Europe, and explain the decision to form an alliance with politicians whose views are rejected by many mainstream leaders across Europe. He considered these parties too extreme to ally with in 2009, so now he needs to explain what has changed.”
When contacted by euronews for comment, the pro-European Conservative 4 Freedoms Party (UK EPP) pointed to a statement released on May 25 in which party leady Dirk Hazell said: “Leading members of the Danish People’s and the Finns parties have made shockingly xenophobic and Islamophobic comments, some of which have resulted in convictions. I find it incredible that Conservative MEPs would even have contemplated talking to such parties, let alone associating with them and justifying their conduct.” While no other official reactions have been made by the UK EPP since the Tory MEPs vote, the condemnation speaks volumes.
The decision to let the True Finns and the Danish People’s Party into the ECR group may not sit well with other reported prospective members, such as German eurosceptic freshmen, the AfD. Back in April, an AfD spokesperson told euronews in a e-mail that “we are conservatives and no right-wing extremists (…) there will be no cooperation with right-wing extremists.” They now face the prospect of sitting with MEPs with “criminal convictions for inciting ethnic tension.” Contacted by euronews for a comment, the AfD had not answered by time of publication.