No deal agreed on FF joining Liberal group in Europe

 

FIANNA FÁIL MEP Brian Crowley has insisted that no deal has been done yet on whether the party’s MEPs will join the Liberal group in the European Parliament.

He has also questioned whether Liberal policies would fit Fianna Fáil’s ethos in an interview that suggests the poll-topping MEP is unhappy about Taoiseach Brian Cowen’s recent decision to apply for membership of the European Liberal Party (ELDR).

“My personal view is that you have to be in a group where you have some control and can deliver for the party and the country,” Mr Crowley said, adding that Fianna Fáil would wait and see what was on offer from the Liberals before deciding to leave its existing group in the parliament, the Union for the Europe of Nations (UEN).

“The group that we are in has delivered for the party and the country. I have brought issues of importance to Ireland to the highest EU levels, whether it is meeting the EU presidencies or meeting commissioners. We have pushed the Irish line on issues such as fisheries, farming and research. We’ve been able to do things,” he added.

Mr Crowley is co-president of the UEN in the parliament, 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. He opposed a previous move by Fianna Fáil under the leadership of Bertie Ahern to join the Liberal group in 2004.

In an interview with The Irish Times yesterday he said some Liberal policies, for example on the reform of the common agricultural policy (CAP) and ethical issues such abortion may present problems. “Abortion is an issue where the country is looking for clarifications with regard to the Lisbon Treaty and this is an issue that Graham Watson has raised . . . This is all part of what we must negotiate after the elections,” said Mr Crowley, who would not rule out Fianna Fáil staying in the UEN.

Minister for European Affairs Dick Roche, who has negotiated with Liberal party officials to ensure Fianna Fáil is accepted, dismissed Mr Crowley’s concerns last night, implying that Fianna Fáil MEPs returned at the June elections had no choice on the issue.

“The Taoiseach, the ardfheis and the ardchomhairle have all agreed on this, and that’s good enough for me. Our party has made a decision at the highest level to join ELDR and of course we will join the Liberal group in the parliament. That will take place after the elections,” said Mr Roche, who exchanged a few angry words with Mr Crowley at the Fianna Fáil ardfheis when the announcement was made.

One reason that Fianna Fáil has decided to switch is the presence of several eurosceptic and far-right individuals in the UEN.

Fianna Fáil’s application to join the ELDR is likely to be approved by it in mid-April. But the formal step of forming the party’s political group in the parliament must wait until after the European elections in June.

In a separate interview with the Euractive news agency Mr Crowley said yesterday “nothing is decided yet” on whether Fianna Fáil would join the Liberal group.