Tories announce new 'anti-federalist' group in European Parliament


THE BRITISH Conservative Party, as expected, has announced the formation of a new “anti-federalist” group in the European Parliament to push for EU reform.

The group will be composed of 55 MEPs from eight countries, including 26 members from the Tory party, which will include long-standing Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson. The secretary general of the new European Conservative and Reformist group is Irishman Frank Barrett, who worked previously as secretary general of Fianna Fáil’s Union for Europe (UEN) group.

The impetus for setting up the new group in the parliament came from Tory leader David Cameron, who pledged to withdraw the British Conservatives from the biggest group in the parliament, the EPP-ED. He criticised this group for following a federalist agenda and has backed the new “European Conservatives and Reformists Group” as an “anti-federalist” alternative.

The new group will be the fourth largest in the parliament after the EPP, the Socialists and the Liberals. This will entitle its MEPs to European funds to hire staff and to chair a certain number of the parliament’s committees.

The British Conservatives will be the biggest single delegation within the new group, with Poland’s Law and Justice party the second largest delegation with 15 MEPs. The Czech Civic Democrats will add nine MEPs to the group while the remaining members come from minority right-wing conservative parties in Belgium, the Netherlands, Latvia, Hungary and Finland.

“Our European Conservatives and Reformists Group, which already has 55 MEPs, will make a strong case for a centre/centre-right but non-federalist future for the EU,” said the British Conservative Party spokesman Mark Francois.

“We already have participants from eight countries but talks are still continuing, and we believe that more will be attracted to join our ranks in the near future,” he added.

The formation of the new group effectively spells the end for the UEN, which has been Fianna Fáil’s home for the past 10 years. Many of the MEPs joining the Conservative group, with the exception of the Tories and the Czech Civic Democrats, come from within UEN ranks. Under the current rules a group must contain at least 25 MEPs from seven countries.

Fianna Fáil is expected to join the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) group following Mr Cowen’s decision for Fianna Fáil to join its sister party, the European Liberal Democrats.

Pat “the Cope” Gallagher will meet ALDE officials in Bristol today to try to negotiate as good a deal for the party as possible in terms of staffing and representation on committees.