Red-carpet treatment as Cowen gets into bed with liberals


There is still a certain frostiness in Fianna Fáil about the move to join the EU liberal grouping, writes  JUDITH CROSBIEin Brussels

TAOISEACH BRIAN Cowen was welcomed into the bosom of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party (ELDR) yesterday with a grand unveiling of Fianna Fáil as the group’s newest member. No matter that Fianna Fáil MEP Brian Crowley opposes the move or that the ELDR council has still to decide next month on the inclusion of the Irish party, the red carpet was literally laid on for Cowen.

“We are very happy that a few weeks ago he applied on behalf of his party to join the ELDR,” beamed the president of the grouping, Annemie Neyts Uyttebroeck, at a press conference with the prime ministers and ministers whose political parties are in the liberal family group.

Cowen held talks with the other liberal party leaders during their traditional pre-EU summit lunch and met Graham Watson, leader of the European Parliament’s liberal political group, for private talks afterwards.

But Cowen had not been expected to attend the press conference and his appearance before the cameras alongside the liberal party prime ministers of Denmark and Finland and ministers from Sweden and Belgium finally laid to rest any qualms that the move to the ELDR was not a done deal.

Each prime minister and minister warmly welcomed Cowen into the liberal fold but a frostiness remains in Fianna Fáil about the move. The Taoiseach batted off questions about opposition within Fianna Fáil to joining the group. “We’re continuing our discussions and finalising our negotiations. We’ve applied to the ELDR group here and look forward to that being completed,” he said. Earlier in the day at a separate event Cowen and Crowley were spotted in animated conversation, with Crowley leaving afterwards and refusing to take any questions from journalists. The liberal party move will signal a significant demotion for Crowley, who will lose the co-president position he holds in Fianna Fáil’s current political group in the European Parliament, the United Europe of Nations. But does the liberal group really want Fianna Fáil and the baggage that comes with it on ethical issues, such as abortion?

“We wouldn’t be liberals if we imposed in matters of conscience one attitude on everybody. It would be totally incompatible with the essence of liberalism,” Neyts Uyttebroeck responded.

So the Soldiers of Destiny are in, but it remains to be seen if this is the end of Fianna Fáil blood-letting.