Contradictions in Libertas stance may prove its undoing

 

EUROPEAN DIARY:The fiasco of Libertas’s funding application has been a bad start to its election campaign, writes JAMIE SMYTH

HAVE THE wheels fallen off Declan Ganley’s European adventure? This is the question people in Brussels are asking after last week’s fiasco when Libertas initially won formal status as an European political party from the European Parliament only to see the decision rescinded a few hours later when serious questions began to be raised about the legitimacy of its political backers.

Under an EU regulation that entered force in 2004, Libertas needs seven signatures from national or European politicians from different EU states to win recognition and access to EU funds to help it campaign in June’s European elections. Ganley has scoured Europe over the past three months seeking willing recruits for Libertas, which he hopes can claim up to 30 MEP seats in the parliament by campaigning on an anti-Lisbon Treaty ticket.

At last week’s Strasbourg plenary it seemed the businessman turned political campaigner had the seven political names in the bag. A bureau of senior MEPs in the parliament ruled on Monday that Libertas should be granted formal status and €200,000 funding to help it campaign in the elections. Nine other European political parties – most attached to existing political groups in the parliament such as the Liberals or Socialists – were also recognised, receiving in total almost €10 million in EU funds.

But by Tuesday morning the Liberal group were asking questions about one of the names on the Libertas list of backers. Igor Grazin, a member of the Estonian parliament, is from the Estonian Reform Party, which is already linked to the Liberals’ European party.

When they questioned Grazin about his signature, he denied he had ever signed Libertas’s application and quickly sent a signed affidavit to the parliament authorities to that effect.

“Mr Ganley appears to have fallen at the first hurdle. Apparently his claim to have recruited enough supporters was untrue. What Europe really needs is a bit more veritas and a lot less Libertas,” said British Liberal MEP Andrew Duff, who jubilantly announced the Libertas hiccup to the European media.

Libertas retorted with a strong statement alleging a conspiracy against them perpetrated by pro-European forces. It also published photographs showing the signature of Grazin on the documents supporting their application to become a European party, and thereby eligible for EU taxpayers’ cash.

“It might be a coincidence or a conscious effort to intimidate those who expressly support the advancement of democracy. . . We deplore the corrupt, dishonest and anti-democratic forces that are pushing them to renounce their support,” said Libertas, which added that it could provide new signatures.

Yet within hours of this statement arriving in reporters’ e-mails, a second Libertas backer was denying that he ever signed its application. Bulgarian MEP Mincho Kuminev, told The Irish Timeshe hadn’t signed any document and was not supporting Ganley’s Libertas or any other “foreign party”.

To lose one political backer may be deemed unlucky but to lose two in 24 hours seems careless, noted senior MEPs in Strasbourg, who ordered an investigation by the parliament’s bureau. Parliamentary officials will now contact all seven names on the list to try to “verify the situation” before official status or any EU funding is released to Ganley’s organisation.

There is no doubt that the episode has damaged Libertas, which looks as if it is having difficulty signing up and maintaining supporters in the myriad of countries it is trying to campaign in. But it has also damaged the parliament, which initially waved through €200,000 worth of EU funds without checking the bona fides of each signatory.

Several MEPs on the bureau, including Northern Ireland’s Jim Nicholson, asked for a temporary delay to allow further checks on the application but their concerns were dismissed. This raises questions over the management of the European party funding scheme, worth some €15 million of taxpayers’ money in 2009.

What perhaps is more surprising is why Libertas even bothered to apply to the parliament for official sanction as a political party. The €200,000 the group may be granted is small potatoes when compared to the €75 million Ganley says he needs to mount a successful EU-wide campaign. Libertas doesn’t need the EU status to run candidates in member states, as it can rely on national registration. Official status would also impose rules on fundraising, although given the lack of checks on its application it is doubtful that these would ever be properly enforced.

Yet by applying to become a recognised European political party, Libertas has had to rush to cobble together a rag-tag band of political supporters that could end up scaring potential moderate voters away.

The handful of Libertas supporters named in the media so far include a colourful array of Eurosceptic, anti-immigration and Catholic fundamentalists such as French MEP Philippe de Villiers, Finnish MP Timo Soini and Polish assemblyman Cyprian Gutkowski. Yet despite this Ganley continues to preach his love for the EU, even warning delegates attending a religious conference held in Ireland at the weekend that one should “never become a Eurosceptic”.

Ultimately it may be this glaring inconsistency rather than its bid for EU funding that causes the wheels to come off Libertas in the June elections.