Ganley's Brussels office opens for business

Thu, Nov 27, 2008, 00:00

The Taoiseach declaring Lisbon dead is the only thing that would make Ganley think twice, writes Jamie Smyth

LIBERTAS FOUNDER Declan Ganley has set up a Brussels office, hired an EU communications director and is amassing a war chest of €75 million to contest next year's European elections.

He has also applied to the European Parliament for EU funds to help him finance an election campaign designed to consign the Lisbon Treaty to the dustbin of history.

"We know the Government want to hold a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. They are being naked about it. At this point everything they have said and done suggests that," said Mr Ganley yesterday on a visit to prepare Libertas's Brussels launch next month.

He said the only action that would cause him to rethink launching Libertas on the EU stage was if Taoiseach Brian Cowen told fellow EU leaders next month Lisbon was dead.

"This is the key," said Mr Ganley, who admits there is little chance of that happening.

Libertas has recently secured its Brussels office on Avenue de Cortenbergh, close to the European Commission and a host of EU member state embassies. It has also appointed a former communications director of the American Chamber of commerce Anita Kelly as its communications director and is seeking European elections candidates across the EU.

"We have been talking to people in almost every member state," said Mr Ganley, who mentions the Czech Republic, Baltic states, Malta and Bulgaria as good prospects.

He says Libertas wants to recruit existing political figures in member states but also people from other backgrounds such as business and media. "I'd like to see a good balance of candidates from both these area," said Ganley, who claims to have signed up elected representatives from at least seven EU states already to join the new Libertas party.

Under the European parliament rules this is the minimum number of representatives that are required to enable Libertas to draw down a portion of the €17 million in EU funding that is available for European political parties and foundations to share every year.

Libertas, which is working closely with former Danish MEP Jens Peter Bonde, an ardent critic of the Lisbon Treaty, can probably count on the support of three MEPs from the Movement for France (MPF) led by French MEP Philippe de Villiers. But Ganley would not reveal the names of any existing politicians who have agreed to join Libertas.

The parliament is expected to rule early next year on Libertas's application. If it rules that it meets all the necessary criteria, Mr Ganley's Libertas may also apply to share some of the additional €52 million available to European political groups in the parliament.

"We haven't got a decision on the application yet. But I've decided not to draw down any of that [EU] money until after we receive a mandate in the European elections. But I reserve the right to change my mind on that," said Mr Ganley, who added that Libertas would need about €75 million to run the type of campaign it needed all across the EU.

Asked if he felt it was right that taxpayers' money should be spent on a campaign against the Lisbon Treaty, he replied that the commission and other political groups had already spent millions of euro in Ireland's recent referendum campaigning for a Yes vote.

"No one asks them about compliance," said Mr Ganley, who has faced repeated questions about how he funded the Libertas anti-treaty campaign.

It has also been widely reported that the Standards in Public Office Commission is investigating how Libertas funded its campaign. Asked about fundraising for the European elections, he said Libertas will be more diligent than any of the other parties on "compliance".

Since opposing the Lisbon Treaty Mr Ganley has been labelled a Eurosceptic by some and criticised by others for not articulating a vision of what should replace Lisbon.

But he insists he is pro-European, arguing yesterday that Lisbon could stimulate some member states such as Britain to leave the EU. He said Lisbon should be replaced with a simple, easy-to-read, 25-page constitution.

But he said the existing EU treaties under Nice, which run to 100,000 pages, should remain in force. There should be more subsidiarity, more democracy and a deregulation ministry created in Brussels. "You have to make the citizen feel like this is their gig, this is their project," he said. "I don't want to sound 'Obama-esque', but we need change and real reform in Europe."