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EPP refuses to sign joint statement denouncing political violence

The European People's Party (EPP) did not sign up the joint statement denouncing political violence.
The European People's Party (EPP) did not sign up the joint statement denouncing political violence. Copyright European Union 2024.
Copyright European Union 2024.
By Jorge Liboreiro
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The European People's Party (EPP) has refused to sign a joint statement endorsed by the main political parties that denounces violence against lawmakers in the run-up to the June elections.

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The declaration, titled "In Defence of Democracy," was released on Wednesday with the signatures of the Socialists & Democrats (S&D), Renew Europe, the Greens/EFA and The Left but, remarkably, without the stamp of the centre-right formation.

The two-page statement is a reaction to the attack against Matthias Ecke, a socialist MEP who was beaten up over the weekend while he was putting up campaign posters in Dresden, Germany. Four suspects, aged between 17 and 18, have been identified in connection to the incident, which sent shockwaves through Brussels.

Ursula von der Leyen, the EPP's lead candidate, condemned the attack and said the "perpetrators must be held accountable," while Manfred Weber, the party's chief, expressed "full solidarity" with Ecke.

"We democrats stand together against the enemies of democracy," Weber said.

But when it came to signing up to the joint statement, spearheaded by S&D leader Iratxe García Pérez and circulated among party leaders, the conservatives opted out, accusing the socialists of trying to exploit the issue for electoral gains.

"The EPP Group is not signing a statement which only aims to support the political campaign of one particular group," a EPP spokesperson told Euronews. "We have proposed concrete and reasonable changes to achieve a text supported by all democratic forces that have been specifically rejected by that political group."

An S&D spokesperson hit back, saying the changes proposed by the EPP were solely meant to "decaffeinate" the extreme right. "There have been attacks against members of The Left and the Greens, so speaking about 'one particular group' is a mistake."

The two-page communiqué establishes a direct link between acts of violence, harassment, vandalism, disinformation, defamation and hate speech against politicians, activists and journalists with the growing popularity of far-right parties across Europe, which is expected to materialise in the June elections.

"The rise of the far-right and radical parties in Europe is a threat to our common project, its values and to the civil liberties and fundamental rights of its citizens," the statement says. "This has no place in Europe and we will never be silenced. We will never allow for any citizen to be threatened in the exercise of their democratic rights."

Speaking about allegations of Russian interference in the parliament, which has hit members of the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) group, the statement adds: "For our political families, there is no ambiguity: We will never cooperate nor form a coalition with the far right and radical parties at any level."

The signatories then call on the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to "firmly reject any normalisation, cooperation or alliance with the far-right and radical parties."

"We expect them to include this formally and unequivocally in their election manifestos and party declarations," they say.

Von der Leyen's tricky path

Although von der Leyen has blasted the ID, which includes Alternative für Deutschland (Germany), National Rally (France) and Lega (Italy), she has been conspicuously ambiguous regarding the hard-right European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, most prominently represented by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

Since Meloni came into power in late 2022, the premier and von der Leyen have developed a close working relationship, especially in the field of migration. Last year, the two travelled together to Tunisia and Egypt to sign multi-million deals to decrease irregular departures, a strategy heavily criticised by humanitarian organisations.

If she is to secure a second term, von der Leyen will have to gather an absolute majority in the European Parliament, meaning Meloni's votes could pay dividends.

Besides Italy, EPP forces have working arrangements with hard-right parties in Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic.

But socialist, liberal and green lawmakers are warning that, should the president seek ECR's blessing, they will withdraw their confidence, making it impossible for von der Leyen to be re-elected and continue her ambitious agenda.

Nicolas Schmit, the socialist lead candidate, rebuked the EPP for refusing to sign and demanded conservatives draw a line with the extreme right.

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"This shows again their ambiguity, as revealed by Ursula von der Leyen during last week’s debate," Schmit said on social media. "I make a new appeal to EPP and their leader: show voters where you stand on the extreme right."

Speaking on behalf of the liberals, Valérie Hayer urged the EPP to "reconsider" and warned their absence in the statement "puts their commitments to the common fight against destructive, far-right forces into question."

This article has been updated with more reactions.

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