FF expected to apply to join Liberals in EU Parliament


FIANNA FÁIL is expected to apply to join the European Liberal Democrat political party (ELDR) in coming weeks, ahead of the European Parliament elections in June.

Party officials have held secret talks with ELDR in recent months about joining the third-biggest political group in Europe. A decision to submit a formal application to the ELDR bureau is likely to lead to Fianna Fáil severing its controversial 10-year relationship with a rival political group, the Union for the Europe of Nations (UEN).

“The Liberals are a much better match for Fianna Fáil than the UEN. We are a pro-European centrist party while the UEN has a mix of opinions on various topics,” said one Fianna Fáil source.

“With a second referendum on Lisbon likely, it would also be good to be part of a strong European political group that could offer us some support.”

The UEN counts 44 MEPs among its members, including the four Fianna Fáil MEPs, Brian Crowley, Liam Aylward, Eoin Ryan and Seán Ó Neachtain. Mr Crowley is co-president of the group, which gives him certain power and privileges in the parliament such as access to the conference of presidents – a key political body in the parliament – and a chauffeur.

Mr Crowley has resisted previous attempts by Fianna Fáil to leave the UEN, a stance he appeared to reiterate last night. “The group we are in has been a good group for us,” he said.

“It has allowed us to deliver things for the country and for the party.”

In 2004 Dick Roche negotiated a deal for Fianna Fáil to join the Liberals but this was rejected at the last minute because of objections from the sitting Fianna Fáil MEPs, some of whom were concerned about the Liberals’ stance on ethical issues such as abortion.

But concern has been growing in Fianna Fáil in recent years about the eclectic make-up of the UEN group, which includes MEPs from the Italian far-right-wing party Lega Nord, former members of the ultra-conservative Polish League of Families, and an anti-immigrant party in Denmark.

Lega Nord MEP Mario Borghezio has been fined for beating a Moroccan child and for setting fire to the belongings of immigrants.

The League of Polish Families has been labelled anti-Semitic and homophobic by commentators in Poland.

In 2006 the party severed ties with its youth group when some members were photographed chanting “Sieg heil” at a neo-Nazi rally. The Eurosceptical Polish Law and Justice Party, of President Lech Kaczynski, is also part of the group.

Last month, the Austrian Freedom Party said it was interested in joining. It is probably best known for the period it spent in government as a junior coalition partner under the leadership of the populist Jörg Haider. Mr Haider, who died last year in a car accident, famously praised the “orderly employment policy” of the Third Reich and rose to prominence by tapping into anti-immigrant feeling in Austria.

Senior members of Fianna Fáil are also hoping that joining ELDR would help them during the second referendum campaign planned for the Lisbon treaty.

Fine Gael and Labour were both able to draw on funds and senior EU leaders from their European parties – the European People’s Party and the Socialists – during the first referendum.

There are currently four EU prime ministers and seven EU commissioners who belong to the Liberals, whose group in the parliament is the third-biggest with 75 MEPs.

ELDR officials are expected to travel to Dublin next week for further talks with Fianna Fáil on its application.