Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

FF to block far-right party joining EU group

Irish Times - 3 February 2009

By Jamie Smyth

FIANNA FÁIL MEP Brian Crowley has vowed to block any application made by the Austrian Freedom Party to join the political group he leads in the European Parliament.

Mr Crowley, who is co-president of the Union for the Europe of Nations (UEN), said yesterday the far-right party would not fit the political philosophy of Fianna Fáil’s group. “We’ve received no application yet but in my opinion there is no advantage in bringing them into the group and all decisions on new admissions are taken unanimously,” said Mr Crowley, who wants Fianna Fáil to remain in the UEN following the European elections rather than join the rival Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe group.

It emerged at the weekend that Austria’s Freedom Party (FPO) wants to join the UEN and has gained the support of Danish MEP Mogens Camre, who is one of 44 UEN MEPs. “The [UEN] faction is currently the fourth strongest in the European parliament but with the help of the FPO, it could become the third strongest after EU elections in June,” said FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache.

The Freedom Party 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.

Mr Haider left the Freedom Party in 2005 to set up a new far- right party but under the leadership of Mr Strache it has maintained its populist views. The party is also an opponent of further EU integration with Mr Strache describing it as a “major problem”.

The UEN is one of nine political groups in the European Parliament but unlike most of the others it contains a diverse range of views. Fianna Fáil says it is strongly pro-European while the Danish People’s Party and Polish Law Justice are Eurosceptics. There are also several MEPs who won election to the parliament by standing for the extreme right wing Polish League of Families party which sits within the UEN group.

Ahead of the European elections in June there has been speculation in Brussels about the group surviving. Some analysts have predicted it could disband while others have suggested it could become a vehicle for the British Tory party, which has pledged to leave the pro-EU European Peoples’ Party.

A recent analysis on the EurActiv website quotes Tory MEP Charles Tannock saying the UEN “by and large, identifies with many of the same values as Conservatives”. A decision by the Tories to apply to the UEN could also prove problematic for Fianna Fáil, which retains a host of privileges because of Mr Crowley’s position as president of a group.

Fianna Fáil came close to joining the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe after the last European elections in 2004 but Mr Crowley persuaded former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to keep the party within the UEN.