German Eurosceptic party joins Tories in European Parliament grouping

Tie-up with AfD could further strain Cameron-Merkel relations

AfD leader Bernd Lucke: “This is a success for our voters who, with this decision, have been given a strong voice in Europe.” Photograph: Axel Schmidt/Reuters

AfD leader Bernd Lucke: “This is a success for our voters who, with this decision, have been given a strong voice in Europe.” Photograph: Axel Schmidt/Reuters

 

Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party was accepted into the Conservatives’ European Parliament group yesterday, creating fresh headaches for British prime minister David Cameron and German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Both leaders had hoped to prevent the AfD joining the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) grouping founded by the Tories in 2009.

But their hopes were dashed by yesterday’s ballot, in which the ECR narrowly voted in favour of accepting the Eurocritical party.

“We’re delighted at the admission to the ECR grouping and thank all involved for the constructive and friendly exploratory talks,” said AfD leader Bernd Lucke. “This is a success for our voters who, with this decision, have been given a strong voice in Europe. ”

Third-largest group

Other parties in the ECR include Poland’s Law and Justice Party (PiS), as well as the controversial True Finns and the Danish People’s Party, which topped the poll in Denmark in last month’s EU elections.

The tie-up could further strain ties between the British and German premiers, who are at odds over the appointment of the next European Commission president, with Mr Cameron opposed to the candidacy of Jean-Claude Juncker.

Conservative MEP for London Syed Kamall, who was elected yesterday as the ECR’s leader in the parliament, said the group would continue to work for further European reforms in the coming years. “When we were formed five years ago we were dismissed, but we have worked hard to gain a strong foothold here in Brussels and in Strasbourg,” he said.

As well as a boost to the ECR, the admission of the AfD to the group may boost its visibility and credibility at home in Germany. The AfD won seven seats in its first European elections last month – its second electoral outing since its foundation.

Fearing that, Dr Merkel had lobbied Mr Cameron to prevent his Tory MEPs voting for her German political rivals. He in turn is understood to have made representations to his party’s MEPs to that effect. But, in the end, it was to no avail, with at least two Conservative MPs believed to have voted against his wishes yesterday.

Mr Lucke, in a clear nod to the German leader, described the news as a “success against all those who exerted pressure on group MEPs to prevent a recognition and upgrade of the AfD”.

Disillusioned CDU voters

Christian Democratic Union

That is likely to embolden senior members of the CDU, already concerned that their leader’s AfD strategy to date – of ignoring the Eurocritical upstart in the hope it would go away – is no longer a sustainable long-term option.

Since the May 25th election, senior CDU figures loyal to Dr Merkel have ruled out co-operating with the AfD. Others have demanded the CDU at least challenge the party on its core demands for a euro break-up and exit option for euro crisis countries. The ECR vote is likely to increase pressure for a more robust CDU approach to its new rivals.

Meanwhile, the French National Front is still seeking MEPs from two more member states to join its planned political group in the European Parliament. Twenty-five MEPs from at least seven countries are required to form a group.