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The Brief: European Conservatives and Reformists - a closer look

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The Brief: European Conservatives and Reformists - a closer look
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© European Union 2019 - Source : EP - Mathieu CUGNOT
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Jan Zahradil is the candidate for a party that may not exist after the elections.

Chances are that the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), right now the third-largest group in the European Parliament, will see the number of its seats cut in half.

The group is more known for the division between its members, but what they can agree on is that they dislike the EU.

"(The) European Union is not a state, (the) European Commission is not a government and we are (a) pro-European family, yes, but anti-Federalist," said Zahradil, who is in the running for the EU's top job, president of the European Commission. "And this will also be one of my main message in the campaign."

Despite populism on the rise in Europe, the European elections could ring the death knell for the ECR.

Yet the 56-year-old Czech politician keeps on campaigning.

In the outgoing legislature, the ECR had 75 seats in the European Parliament. Thirty-eight MEPs came from Britain and Poland, 19 each.

Six came from Germany, and four from Belgium and Italy.

The rest came from 13 other countries having no more than three MEPs.

Why were Britain and Poland so starkly overrepresented?

The Eurosceptic ECR was founded after the 2009 election at the behest of then-Bristish Conservative Party leader David Cameron.

He and his party did not want to side with the pro-European Christian Democrats.

By isolating the ECR from the centre-right mainstream parties in Europe, the Tories made sure, willfully or not, that they played no role in any meaningful EU business.

Today, as the Tories are among the main drivers of Brexit in the United Kingdom, they almost ignore the European elections.

They simply have no appetite of campaigning on Europe - like their voters: polls suggest, the British Conservatives might lose half of their MEPs or more.

Consequently, the Tories have no real campaign to speak of, no events and no manifesto.

With the British Tories in dire straits, the second pillar of the ECR is the ring-wing nationalist PiS Party from Poland, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

The PiS opposes the relocation of migrants to Poland. The argument: refugees could spread infectious diseases.

The PiS also brought opposition to gay rights, abortion and social-conservative catholicism to the ECR.

"The Church is still the only depository of the system of our values. Who raises his hand on the Church, wants to destroy it, raises his hand against Poland," said Kaczynski.

During the 2019 campaign, the PiS and other ECR members had put out their feelers to other nationalist parties in Europe in order to establish a new group after the elections.

It is not sure whether the ECR can survive a major shake-up with the British Tories sharply reduced (until Brexit) and the Poles on their way out.

The party name might disappear, but the Eurosceptic forces will still be there.